Thursday, June 10, 2010
THESE THREE (1936). Director: William Wyler.
College friends Karen Wright (Merle Oberon) and Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins) decide to open a girl's school together. Into their lives comes a handsome doctor, Joe (Joel McCrea), with whom both fall in love. Joe, however, only has eyes for Karen. [A memorable scene has Martha watching him as he sleeps, with the passage of time indicating that she's done this for hours.] This not being a soap opera, Joe and Martha do not get involved and Martha never makes a play for him. Unfortunately, a nasty little girl named Mary (Bonita Granville) implies that the good doctor spent the night in Martha's room, and forces another child (Marcia May Jones) to confirm it. This leads to disastrous complications.
These Three was based on a play by Lillian Hellman called The Children's Hour. It, too, was about the destructiveness of gossip, but the lie was quite different -- that the two women were lovers [It turned out that Martha was a self-hating lesbian]. Naturally Hollywood of the 30's wouldn't tackle such a subject, so it was toned down and changed to alleged pre-marital sex and infidelity. Years later Wyler filmed the play again [as The Children's Hour] with the original story intact. In that version Miriam Hopkins played Martha's Aunt Lily (played by Catherine Doucet in These Three).
Even in its adulterated version These Three is a powerful story, and the film is well directed and very well played by the entire cast. In addition to those already mentioned, Alma Kruger makes an impression as Mary's grandmother, who starts the word-of-mouth campaign against the two women and their school. Margaret Hamilton plays the woman's stern maid, who can see through Mary, and in perhaps the movie's most satisfying scene, gives her a good slap.
Verdict: Superior, thoughtful drama. ***1/2.