What do Regina George, Draco Malfoy, Chris Hargensen, and Syd Phillips have in common? They are the mean-spirited thugs disguised as children, who with a flip of a switch, turn charm into perversion, and scar their victims forever. I’m adding Mary to the list.
On TCM the other night, I watched the 1961 classic, The Children’s Hour, a William Wyler film adaptation of the play and starred Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner.
Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) are close for years and own and run a boarding school for girls. Karen is engaged with the local doctor Joe Cardin, who is the nephew of the influential Mrs. Amelia Tilford. Mary, her granddaughter, is a monster.
This film explored a taboo topic and I liked the film for three reasons:
With a whisper, wicked Mary births a scandal that leads to a libel suit and demise of the boarding home. Mary was perfect as the bully who blackmails her roommate and manipulates the adults around her. What a great villain in film and great acting job by Karen Balkin.
Shirley MacLaine’s acting. In 1961 she completed The Apartment which won 5 Oscars, and this was her next film for which she was nominated again for Best Actress. I love her voice. One line she will deliver like a sweet girl and then the next line her voice is vicious.
The best part of the film is it’s a horror story. I forgot how intolerant society was to homosexuals; the “unnatural” act haunts the characters and permeates the air. The historical climate is authentic.
In the United States, in the 1700s, if you were a homosexual, you would be hanged. In the 1800s, not much had changed. In the first half of the 20th century, to be actively homosexual was a criminal offense and up to 20 years in prison. Depending on the state, you could expect denial of a driver’s license, disowned by your family, fines, denied jobs, and excommunication. It wasn’t until 1998 that President Clinton authored Executive Order 13087 which banned the discrimination of employment based upon sexual orientation. In 2003, the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, same-sex sexual activity was legal in every U.S. state and territory. But in 1961, Gay Civil Rights was only a whisper.