The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: These Three and The Children’s Hour – The Adaptation of Miriam Hopkins

Introduction

One thing I must fully acknowledge before beginning was that prior to signing up for this Blogathon Miriam Hopkins was not a name I could connect to a face. When I checked her filmography on the IMDb I saw that i had seen her in a few things but it hadn’t stuck with me for some reason. At that point I thought I would pass on the blogathon. However, then I got to following links and I realized that she was in not one but two versions of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour on the big screen. The opportunity to cover the multiple fascinating angles that affords got me more into.

First of all, I find it quite interesting that both she and William Wyler were drawn to the title on more than one occasion. Second, an actor playing two parts in the same story over the course of a career is quite interesting as well. Third, due to the fact that 25 years elapsed between the films it also displays Hopkins at two very different stages in her career. Lastly, what makes these two versions of The Children’s Hour, the earlier called These Three, interesting to compare and contrast is that since the initial adaptation was made in the early days of the Code being fully enforced it’s a rather different treatment of the narrative that removes overt references to lesbianism entirely.

In the structuring of this post I will touch on all these topics while attempting to keep a bulk of the discussion on Hopkins, and extrapolate and disseminate other points from that place.

The Children’s Hour (1934 a play by Lillian Hellman)

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To start with I wanted to finally get to read The Children’s Hour. When I was in college, in one of those oh-so-wise syllabus-requirements I was asked to purchase Six Plays by Lillian Hellman even though we were only going to study the Little Foxes. I don’t mind having extra plays, it just seemed a little silly as required reading.

I happened upon excerpted reviews of the play on Goodreads before I embarked on reading it that I must say disappointed me a great deal. They did so because they said things to the extent of “it doesn’t seem so shocking now, maybe it was then…” and they would proceed to discuss why they think the play is mediocre. The issue there is that they’re missing the point entirely. Firstly, there’s only a halfway decent rationalization of the time period. Yes, discussing the subject of homosexuality in 1934 carried far more weight, however, I do not think that shock was the sole intent of the play – or even the intent, at most it’s the hook. The tale in its original form and in the 1961 film is a tragic one. It’s about perceptions, attitudes, rumors and lies. Furthermore, many of the things that Lillian Hellman wrote in 1934 are still said in America in 2015 when the topic is discussed by some the perceived relationship is described as “unnatural,” “it becomes a great deal more than that when children are involved,” “I don’t understand it. I don’t want any part of it,” “But this isn’t a new sin they tell us we’ve done. Other people aren’t destroyed by it.” Clearly we’re not as advanced as we’d like to think. Some of these very prejudices and perceptions are still bandied about like they make the most sense in the world. Furthermore, a child’s word when they do not understand the totality of what they are insinuating is the same thing that incites the recent Danish film The Hunt. Clearly I think there is still a vitality to this play that belies the date of its first production such that I wouldn’t mind it being revisited anew. However, it clearly struck a nerve in 1934 and remained relevant enough that it was deemed worth of revisiting when film was entering a bolder, new era.

Now back to the era at hand when this story first rolled onto the silver screen the liberties Miss Hellman was afforded as a playwright were not the same she would be afforded as a credited screenwriter, not to the studio adapting her work seeing as how the Pre-Code madness was snuffed out and the Code was in full force.

These Three (1936)

These Three (1936, Samuel Goldwyn)

In the initial Production Code there is a section on “Impure Love.” In that section is detailed that any sexual congress deemed inappropriate by the Bible were impermissible. It then goes on to detail how things like extra-marital affairs or pre-marital relations should be handled when necessary as plot elements. Banished from even mention in the code was homosexuality. Even miscegenation, was later addressed and strictly forbidden in an amendment. Homosexuality it was understood was not to be broached. It was in fact the “love that dare not speak its name” in his mind.

Thus, when dealing with a narrative wherein a child claims her two female teachers have an unnatural relationship not only can Martha not confess that she believes she has loved Karen “the way they said” the entire insinuation has to be struck or risk being banned altogether. Therefore, the story must be told under the guise of something that can be dealt with, but not glorified: a heterosexual love triangle with jealousy.

To make the story function in this manner two things were highly necessary: first, a meet-cute treatment for all three with Carden (Joel McCrea) being drawn to romantic interest in Karen (Miriam Hopkins), and just friendly interest with Martha (Merle Oberon). Second, Mary has to be even more the villain in this film than she was in the play. Thanks in large part to the rather spectacular scene-stealing performance by Bonita Granville that is accomplished.

Hopkins in this film has a statuesque poise and refinement that make her perfectly suited to the role. There’s a certain authority that lends her character, which while she seems affable enough she also has a no-nonsense approach to dealing with the likes of Mary and a cool patience with the flights of Mrs. Mortar (Catharine Doucet).

It would be tedious to quantify but it seems in this version Martha get a much greater share of the screen time. However, the ensemble scenes such as the initial confrontation with Mrs. Tilford (Alma Kruger) are all beautifully handled.

Hopkins certainly has no troubles engendering sympathy, and being the heroine getting for us to root for her. Now the story in this version does conclude in a standard Hollywood was (again owing to the code), however, while some say that this film reads as even more of a lesbian love story with the change in dynamics, I do not after first viewing. Yes, I did feel the insinuation nipping around the edge every once in a while, but Rebecca this most certainly is not.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

The Children's Hour (1961, United Artists)

One thing that is immediately clear to those that have both read/seen the play and seen this version is that it is far more faithful to the original text than the prior incarnation. With the transformation of the alleged transgression in the first one changing one would think that would be a given, but this film does more closely approximate the play even in its claustrophobic mostly chambered set-pieces.

Part of the film being allowed to be so faithful is not just the different era in which it was made but also the involvement of screenwriter John Michael Hayes. Hayes a two-time Academy Award nominee and WGA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was prior to this film wrote Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and many more.

Having William Wyler at the helm again helps this film achieve far greater heights than the one before it. Those achievements further bolstered by the film receiving five Oscar nominations.

The first time I saw The Children’s Hour was during TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar and it’s interesting to note that in an interview segment with Shirley Maclaine she lamented, practically apologized for the fact that the subject matter though known to all was not discussed on set. She felt it showed in the finished product. I don’t believe it did, and it astounds me based on the results. Now that I think on that fact more that could have a lot to do with the way scenes played out on film that the cast was working under the discomfort that people in society felt in even broaching the subject and channeled it into their performance.

From Martha to Lily

These Three (1936, Samuel Goldwyn)

Not to be forgotten in the midst of the tremendous work that Hepburn and Maclaine do in this film is the contribution of Miriam Hopkins as Lily Mortar. As Martha’s aunt and the school’s elocution teacher she plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. Mrs. Mortar is a far more insidious type as she’s an aloof, eccentric actress who seems silly and harmless until she gets angry and uses the words that can all-too-easily be misconstrued, and later damns the pair with her absence.

Interestingly its Hopkins’ refined elegant air that here matured and combined with the eccentric behaviors she employs for the role of Lily that make the transition seamless. I was struck by this notion of playing different characters in the same drama ever since I saw a one-act play about an actress who spent her life in The Sound of Music transitioning from one role to another. It would’ve been fascinating to see Hopkins have completed a trilogy, but that’s just dreaming.

Interestingly, in part because as a whole the impact of The Children’s Hour is so much greater than its predecessor’s that, Hopkins impresses and sticks in my mind more in the newer version with a supporting role than in the original where she was one of the leads. This is due to the aforementioned air, the key role the scenes play and the humanizing aspect Hopkins brings to the part. It can be far too easy to play Lily Mortar as a caricature, but to make her human, understandable even if intolerable is the task of a great actress. It’s an occasion that she more than rises to, but embraces.

Conclusion

La Rumeur (The Children's Hour) (1961, Samuel Goldwyn)

It is quite a small sample size, just two of over 50 credits, but it was great to have a chance to focus on her work in two versions of the same story. It was also great to be able to focus more closely on the adaptation and film-crafting of a story that truly moves me a great deal.

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Alternate History: A Hitchcock-Clouzot Switch

Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot had two lengendary square-offs for film adaptation rights for novels by the writing team of Boileau & Narcejac.

The first of which was for Les Diaboliques. Htichcock wanted it, but did not get it. How Hitchcock having done that film in 1955 would have changed his career it’s hard to tell, save for the fact that it likely would’ve accelerated his evolution and perhaps there would not have even been a film version of Psycho. For if Hitchcock had unleashed Diabolique on an unsuspecting American public, then maybe Psycho wouldn’t have seemed as shocking. Though there are some clear differences.

The second such square-off was for the rights to the book D’entre les morts. That one Hitchcock won. It later became known to US audiences as Vertigo.

I venture in this post to just do a bit of dream-casting in the what if scenarios of Alfred Hitchcock directing Diabolique in the US in 1955 and Henri-Georges Clouzot directing D’entre les morts in France in 1958.

Hitchcok’s Diabolique

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So who would be this dream cast? Although the last vestiges of the studio system were still hanging about in 1950s, Hitchcock was at that point virtually his own boss so if he had a film he could do it how he saw fit and studio affiliations of actors and the like wouldn’t matter as much. Since this is a hypothetical situation, and one that involves Hitchcock, it’s essentially carte blanche.

There are a few possibilities that came to mind for Diabolique in the US in the 1950s. Hitchcock always did have stars involved but for the most part they were the best fit for the role also. For the role of Michel Delasalle, let’s call him Michael in the US version, the seemingly-jilted husband; a few possibilities came to mind.

Hitchcock did a lot of work with Cary Grant in the 1950s so his name would naturally come up. Though Grant could easily play this two-sided role he was perhaps too classically good-looking. Perhaps someone with a little more of a rugged and mysterious quality; I also considered Fred MacMurray. MacMurray’s career was a fascinating one. He was a film noir staple and later became a linchpin to many family-oriented projects; first, the sitcom My Three Sons and then many Disney films. However, as good as that selection seems, the potential of Robert Mitchum was just too enticing. Just imagine that in some alternate universe Robert Mitchum made Diabolique and Night of the Hunter in the same year. The mind boggles.

For the role of Christina, Michael’s wife who is always racked with more doubt than her cohort, only one name really ever came to mind: Audrey Hepburn. Not only is Hepburn perfectly suited for this part, but it would have been fascinating to have seen her in a Hitchock film and playing a school teacher a few years prior to The Children’s Hour.

Marilyn Monroe

The role of Nicole was one I tussled with a bit. Hitch’s only only 1950s blond that was in the vicinity of this character to me was Anne Baxter. However, there is that bombshell quality to the character which is why Simone Signoret is in Les Diaboliques and Sharon Stone was tapped for the American remake. So there was one more dream pairing with Hitch that just had to be made: Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn is likely where my warning about studio affiliation comes most into play, but I think whether Fox got involved or loaned her, if Hitch had this cast in his sights, and this property, some arrangement would’ve been made and it would’ve been a colossus.

Clouzot’s D’entre les morts

D'entre Les Morts

My frame of reference for an American Diabolique is much greater than mine is for a French Vertigo, which in all likelihood would’ve just retained the title that Boileau-Narcejac gave it in the first place D’entre les morts. However, two names immediately came to mind for the two key roles in the film and I never looked back from there.

For the role that became ‘Scottie’ (James Stewart) in the American version I thought only of Maurice Chavalier. Granted Chevalier was 10 years older than Stewart at the time but there is an analogous quality between the two that I think would’ve made Chevalier quite the amazing fit. His interpretation I’m sure would’ve been very powerful.

The blond goddess, the now seeming reincarnation of his lost love, in the late 1950s in France could be played by no other than Brigitte Bardot in my mind. Though I suspect Clouzot would’ve likely gone back to Simone Signoret for this part too as he did for Nicole in the Diabolique that did occur.

Conclusion

Night of the Hunter (1955, All Rights Reserved)

I’m not sure if I’ll find another instance in film history that coud’ve changed things so greatly that would allow me to speculate like this anew, but it was sure great fun this time around.

Who would you see in these films if things had gone differently?

Best of Spielberg

Here’s a second installment of a list idea I’m borrowing from Brian Saur. Here I will discuss the films of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably my favorite director of all time. I did an Ingmar Bergman list first, in part to track what I still needed to see. With Spielberg my impetus was to finally be up to date on his narrative features, which sadly I wasn’t.

As with any list, rankings may make thing seem worse than they are. There are 30 films on this list. Make no mistake I like 28 of them and am a snarky fanboy on one, and three have at one point been my all-time favorite, including my current number one (if pressed to answer). Here goes…

30. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World (1997, Universal)

This is the sequel Spielberg supposedly gave Universal so they’d leave E.T. alone. That’s almost enough to bump it past last place but I can’t. Even though I loved the score and effects it was still one of the worst, most confounding thing I saw that year. The third film and news of a fourth have softened that hurt, but seeing newly-introduced annoying character and the follow-up to my then favorite film of all-time relegated to a Godzilla/King Kong knock-off hurt.

29. 1941 (1979)

1941 (1979, Universal/Columbia)

I did try to like this. My professor tried to get me to like it. I just don’t. Spielberg doesn’t care much for it either and has moved on to bigger and better things.

28. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Paramount)

Nuking the fridge only happened in one scene people, Shia LaBeouf had many more scenes than that and Cate Blanchett seemed uncomfortable. Spielberg has since honestly confessed what his reservations were about this film. Hopefully that molds a better fifth film should it occur, though he certainly doesn’t need there to be one.

27. Amistad (1997)

Amistad (1997, Universal)

As oddly engaging as Spielberg’s restraint in Lincoln is, if memory serves, there was an attempt at such here too that doesn’t work quite as well. I remember Honsou and Hopkins impressed but not much else.

26. The Terminal (2004)

The Terminal (2004, DreamWorks)

Unlike Catch Me If You Can, which appears shortly, I wasn’t even compelled to go out and see this one theatrically. It’s an interesting and well-handled idea that I can indentify with on a few levels but it’s just not one of his best.

25. Twilight Zone: The Movie (segment 2) (1983)

The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, Paramount)

I saw this recently also and Spielberg’s segment fits him to a tee (residents of a retirement home become young again) and is the second best in the anthology in my estimation behind Joe Dante’s zany one.

24. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982, Paramount)

One can debate the nuances and politics of whether Spielberg really directed this. To be brief: I have it on good authority that he directed most of it and just didn’t take the credit because he couldn’t per DGA rules at the time. This is a title where I could rant and rave childishly about how “My opinion is different than yours!” but I won’t. Poltergeist is fine, it just never had a tremendous amount of impact on me.

23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Paramount)

To address the white elephant in the room: I do not have any issue with the character of Shortround whatsoever. Temple of Doom lands here more for being the third best in the series and Kate Capshaw than anything else.

22. Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can (2002, DreamWorks)

This is one of those that falls into the category of “There’s nothing really wrong with it, I just can’t get into it.”

21. The Sugarland Express (1974)

The Sugarland Express (1974, Universe)

This is an unusual but involving one with a great turn by a young Goldie Hawn.

20. Always (1989)

Always (1989, Universal)

This one film I finally saw last year so as I could finally create this list. I had avoided it because in clips and trailers you could not get a sense of the totality of the film. It is Spielberg’s first remake, but it’s a fairly well modernized one that features Audrey Hepburn‘s final performance.

19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia)

Spielberg has said that the end of this film dates him as a filmmaker. I understand his point entirely but he does set it up very well. Also, in a bit of fanboy wish-fulfillment, I’d suggest the end of this film and the end of E.T. swap, but it is a very visual and evocative film with the added bonus of an acting-only participation by François Truffaut.

18. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

The mark of a great director is making something that seems illogical, that shouldn’t be able to work, work. This is his best example ih that regard.

17. Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002, DreamWorks)

If Robopocalypse, or something like it, ever comes to fruition it would complete a Dark Future Trilogy for Spielberg, which may seem antithetical to his ethos but something he said he’s not averse to when discussing A.I.

16. Munich (2005)

Munich (2005, DreamWorks)

I welcome departures from directors. Spielberg is perhaps more underrated in terms of his diversity than any other director. His hits and classics have commonalities to them such that it makes people think he repeats himself constantly. These two selections shake that notion massively. Munich is a dark film, where there can be no happy endings. It’s a chillingly rendered tale of an ugly incident in history that cannot be buried.

15. Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

Lincoln almost isn’t a Spielberg film, it plays with such classical restraint and removal that it’s almost anti-auteurish, but it’s still very engaging and convincing.

14. War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds (2005, Paramount)

I think this film might get overlooked in part because it stuck close to the source material, but also because it’s the kind of film Spielberg “should” take on. However, when you consider how often he’s made aliens benevolent a surviving an alien apocalypse tale is a little different for him. That and it’s another rather imperfect family.

13. Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Here’s where rankings can get you in trouble. Jaws is great. I have nothing I can say against it, except the intangible “I like other works in Spielberg’s canon a lot better.” I have and can see Jaws many times over. It’s just a matter of preference when you start slotting them.

12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount)

Yes, the Indiana Jones and the was later tacked on. Spielberg and Lucas have combined perfectly three times in this series. They take a serialized approach to a feature and update classic tropes very well and memorably.

11. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Columbia/Paramount)

When Spielberg is at his best he combines technological innovation with great stories. Although I fell under the spell of seeing motion capture for the first time in The Polar Express, it was imperfectly ahead of his time and didn’t make a jump toward verisimilitude until this film. It’s a very viable tool other animation properties should and could use. Not only that it’s a great take and a global re-introduction of a beloved character. Not many directors go from live action to animation or vice versa, this is a seamless jump.

10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Paramount)

I am a fan of the Indiana Jones series, albeit a Johnny Comelately to it, and this is my favorite one. More explanation can be found in the link above.

9. Duel (1971)

Duel (1971, Universal TV)

If there was ever a made-for-TV movie that prove that it’s a meaningless distinction, it’s this one. I have to remind myself it is one. Only once in a hundred times when I think about this movie do I recall that. It’s taut, brilliantly suspenseful and relatably frightening.

8. War Horse (2011)

War Horse (2011, DreamWorks)

War Horse is one I need to revisit, but this one vaults up the list due to improbability. Spielberg is one of the directors I go out and see regardless, however, I didn’t expect much here. I was anxious for Tintin, but this one shook up my whole best of the year list. Very surprisingly emotional and engaging.

7. The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple (1985, Warner Bros.)

One of the most embarrassing moments in Oscar history is perhaps the fact that this film is the biggest oh-fer, garnering eleven nominations and no wins. Spielberg created some controversy by even taking this film on. I think the end result proved he could do it and paved the way for his more mature dramatic works later on.

6. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros.)

I saw this in 2002 just after having taken my Spielberg course. I hadn’t really heard of it ’til then. It was referenced as Spielberg’s “most European film” by my professor and one that I began anticipating in A.I.-like fashion, which should’ve set me up for disappointment, but didn’t. It’s dense and takes some wading but when you get there it’s special. Not to mention there’s a brilliant performance by a young Christian Bale.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List (1993, Universal)

The next two films are ones that I really admire, have great affection for, but am leery to revisit because they are taxing experiences. However, they’re important and I hope their legacy continues through oncoming generations. A while ago, I recall I saw a kid picking up Schindler’s List at a video store and it was heartwarming, as I saw a burgeoning cineaste.

4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan (1998, DreamWorks)

It took me a while to see this one. The tale of saving the last surviving brother is the MacGuffin, a very Spielbergian one. However, the reaction I had to this film, though very different than many of his works, was one of the strongest I had. It was a new aesthetic for him and in many ways a revolutionary work.

3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Nearly any child of the 80s grew up on Spielberg films. I will be doing a focus on Disney, which I surmise that unless you saw re-releases and VHS tapes you weren’t getting the golden age of that studio. However, if you grew up in the 80s, regardless of who you were, odds are every few years Spielberg changed your life. E.T. is an imaginary friend come true, it’s not necessarily always an alien, but many of us were Elliot, which is what makes it resonate.

2. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Suffice it to say that upon its release, when I was still quite young, this was probably the most amazing theatrical experience I’d ever encountered. I’ve found myriad great films since then but this one has not lost its luster in the slightest. When I first saw it, this was the greatest film of my lifetime. It was the dream of every dinorsaur-loving child brought to life for better and for worse.

1. Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)

Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001, DreamWorks)

I’ve already written a tome about this film, which I have posted on this site in installments. Making a new or different case for it would be nearly pointless.