In 1961, William Wyler remade a film he had himself brought to the screen 25 years earlier. The first version was called These Three, but it was based on Lillian Hellman’s controversial play The Children’s Hour. Indeed, it was so controversial (about two female teachers whose careers are ruined following a false accusation from a student that they were having a lesbian affair) that in 1936 a lot of changes were needed to the plot. Things had loosened up a little by the time the second film came around and Wyler assembled a great case, including Audrey Hepburn, James Garner and Fay Bainter. He always picked great composers to work with and elicited some of the finest film scores ever written in the process (his last film before this one was Ben-Hur!) and this time he turned to Alex North.
North’s gift for writing compelling music for serious, adult dramas has never been matched by another film composer. He had a unique ability to musically depict complex relationships – and that’s on full display in this score. Those anguished strings never fail to impress, so suggestive and so tortured. The piece “Alone” is so crammed full of feeling, its as if it’s ready to explode. North – in a typically bold move – interpolates children’s nursery rhymes into a few of the tracks, sometimes with great ferocity; it has a very powerful effect. Bruce Kimmel says in his booklet notes that “North’s music sounds like no other Hollywood composer of that era” and that’s entirely correct – his instinct to look within rather than stress what could be seen on the outside was revolutionary for film music and paved the way for the great film composers who followed, particularly those whose careers took off in this decade, the 1960s. The Children’s Hour is such an intelligent score – and this first-ever release so highly recommended. ****