Normally I hate remakes....absolutely hate them. However, in the case of "These Three" we have a peculiar situation. While this original film was wonderful (I gave it a 9 in my review),the film was incredibly sanitized because of the very restrictive Production Code. All hints at lesbianism were removed from the script and the film was purely about the way a lie snowballs and hurts many people. It was exceptional...but completely missed the gay angle. Well, by 1961, the Production Code was still in place (barely) but standards had changed and so had the enforcement of the Code. For example, in "The Apartment" (also with Shirley MacLain but made the year before),the main theme was adultery--something that NEVER would have been approved back in the 1930s when "These Three" was made...and if they wouldn't allow a theme involving adultery, they certainly would NOT have allowed even a hint of lesbianism. Now this is NOT to say that "The Children's Hour" doesn't also hold back (after all, the words 'lesbian' or 'homosexual' are never used),it strongly implies so much and goes so far as to say that the two women were being accused of being lovers--a very modern theme! Now I am sure some today may hate the film--as it could be construed as either pro- or anti-gay---I just admire its frankness for 1961.
Audrey Hepburn and MacLaine play best friends who co-run a small boarding school for rich young ladies. MacLaine's aunt (Miriam Hopkins--who starred in the original film) works for them and is frankly of no help at all--she's self-centered and very histrionic. In this school there is one girl in particular who is a budding sociopath--she lies, is vicious and shows no evidence of any conscience. One day, after being caught and rebuked for lying, she then concocts a vicious lie and tells it rather masterfully to her gullible grandmother (Fay Bainter). The grandmother investigates and talks with Hopkins--who says many unwise things that are misconstrued by the grandmother as confirmation of her granddaughter's story. In response, she contacts all the parents who then remove all the kids from the school because of the accusations. No one even has the decency to ask the two teachers if it is true--they just sanctimoniously remove their kids (wow, that's enlightened!).
When the child is confronted for her lies, she continues lying and manages to make her grandmother side with her when the girl blackmails another child to confirm her crazy accusations about the teachers kissing and carrying on an affair in front of the students. When the teachers sue, the selfish Aunt doesn't even bother to show up to court and the judgment goes against them. As a result, Helburn's relationship with her fiancé (James Garner) is a mess--as is her relationship with her friend (MacLaine). This leads to a conclusion with MANY great twists--but I won't say them here because it really would spoil the film. However, I loved how the film did NOT stop where "These Three" stopped but had a very emotional and tragic finale that, frankly, made it a better film. I'd score them both 9 (I can't give "The Children's Hour" a 10 because it still pulled a few punches).
Some standouts in the film were MacLaine and Hopkins. Now I am NOT saying Hepburn was bad, but her part didn't give her as much chance to show off her acting abilities--it was very straight-forward and less complex. MacLaine, however, was brilliant. Her facial expressions and body language were great and she said a lot in many scenes where she actually said nothing out loud. Also, Hopkins managed to play a lady who was so easy to hate--she managed to play a self-centered and highly affected lady so well. I hate to say this, but I saw a documentary in which cast from the film talked about making this movie and apparently Hopkins pretty much played herself! Seriously. By the time the film was complete, everyone apparently hated her and the experience was NOT a positive one. But it also brought out some terrific tension in the film.
Another standout was the masterful director, William Wyler. He directed both versions, but I liked the slow and deliberate way it was filmed (it could have been about 15 minutes shorter with another director) and I loved the composition. A lovely film from start to finish--and one well worth seeing. And, I must say, that I'd love to see this incredible Lillian Hellman story redone one final time--as nowadays you could say and do ANYTHING in the film! Heck, you could even add necrophilia or cannibalism if you'd like!