Wicked Children in Films: The Children’s Hour

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

14 thoughts on “Wicked Children in Films: The Children’s Hour

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  1. I once saw a production of the play on which this film appears to have been based. It was one of the best theater going experiences I have ever had.

    And somehow I had no idea there was a film version the most beautiful person the world has ever known and Shirley MacLaine. I have no idea how my ignorance on this point is even possible.

    So. I will be watching this movie at some point in the near future. 😉

    1. Thanks, James! I, too, was oblivious of this film and never heard of it or the play until 2 days ago. I’ve always admired Shirley–she gave a splendid performance. I hope you like it when you get around to viewing it. 🙂

  2. Great idea for a post Cindy! Draco Malfoy ugh, I hated that kid!! Shirley MacLaine does have a great, raspy voice. Can’t wait to see The Apartment, hopefully in the next 2 weeks 😀

  3. Cindy,
    ‘Lord of the Flies’ .. scared me a lot. Singled out and selectively murdered by your peers.

    WAY off topic: have you seen Dallas Buyers Club yet ?? I know where my Best Actor Oscar would go. Matthew McConaughey is stunning – and what he did to himself physically for that role – My God!
    It would be a joy to see him sneak in and snag the Oscar for this one.

    1. I think Matthew was amazing–but, I think Leo DiCaprio is going to win because he’s been snubbed many times and it’s his turn although, Matthew’s role was top notch and I preferred it over the others.
      Oh, and yes, to Lord of the Flies. I love that book and film. 🙂

  4. Interesting. I never really thought about how much Hollywood and TV liked to use vicious children: Damien for “Omen”, is only one example – you have great ones.

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