Dizzy Dialogue in ‘Christopher Strong’

While watching Christopher Strong (1933) recently, we were struck by one perplexing line of dialogue. First, some context…

Christopher Strong posterIn the movie, Colin Clive plays the title character, a member of Parliament who prides himself on his love for and commitment to his wife of many years (played by Billie Burke, who was, it’s interesting to note, nearly 16 years older than Clive). Their daughter, Monica (played by Helen Chandler, who was just six years younger than Clive—quite a trick, that), is a thrill-seeker who, as the movie opens, is involved with Harry Rawlinson (Ralph Forbes), an unhappily married man.

Katharine Hepburn plays Lady Cynthia Darrington, a world-renown aviatrix, in the picture, which was just her second movie. We’ll get back to her.

Rawlinson eventually divorces his wife and weds Monica. Sir Strong and Lady Strong initially oppose Monica’s marriage to a man she was having an adulterous affair with, but when she announces that she’s pregnant, they are persuaded to accept the union and be happy for Monica and Harry.

But here’s the point of this post: During a scene at a restaurant, where Monica and Harry have just revealed to Lady Strong that they are expecting, in walks Lady Darrington—who, as it happens, is having an affair with Sir Strong (we know, we know) and is, unbeknownst to him, also pregnant.

A woman of her acquaintance approaches Lady Darrington to share Monica and Harry’s news of a coming blessed event, and in sharing this news with her, the woman says something along the lines of, “They don’t yet know whether it’s a girl or a boy.”

And that left us scratching our heads: Monica and Harry have just learned they’re pregnant, and it’s 1933. Of course they don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, right? We almost expected Lady Darrington to do a double-take and say, “Of course they don’t know if it’s a boy or girl—how could they?”

So why was that line in the picture?

We wondered if perhaps we just weren’t up to speed on the state of obstetrics in the early 1930s, so we checked with our favorite ob-gyn, Dr. Mary Kirk, and asked her if there were, at that time, accurate scientific methods of determining the sex of an unborn child that we were simply unaware of.

“In the 1930s, you would find out the sex in the delivery room,” said Dr. Kirk. “There were all kinds of old wives’ tales, but nothing reliable. Ultrasound was not even very accurate or consistent until the 1970s, and only then much later in a pregnancy.”

In short, Dr. Kirk agreed that the line of dialogue was very odd, indeed. So the mystery of why it was included remains…

A Quartet of Screwball Comedy Classics on TCM

Tonight’s a big night for fans of classic romantic and screwball comedies: Beginning at 8 p.m. ET, TCM is airing four favorites in a row, so set those DVRs now (that’s assuming you’re not prepared to stay up until 4 a.m.):

8:00 p.m.
His Girl Friday (1940)
An unscrupulous editor plots to keep his star reporter-and ex-wife-from re-marrying.
Dir: Howard Hawks; Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy

10:00 p.m.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
A zany heiress tries to help a tramp by making him the family butler.
Dir: Gregory La Cava; Cast: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady

12:00 a.m.
Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
A woman’s two lives as small-town innocent and author of torrid romances collide.
Dir: Richard Boleslawski; Cast: Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas, Thomas Mitchell

2:00 a.m.
The More the Merrier (1943)
The World War II housing shortage brings three people together for an unlikely romance.
Dir: George Stevens; Cast: Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn

10 Things You Should Know About Janet Gaynor

Janet Gaynor‘s 112th birthday is timed perfectly, what with the third remake of the film for which she won an Oscar, A Star Is Born (1937), opening this weekend. Here are 10 things you should know about Gaynor, who was a huge star in the late 1920s and into the ’30s.

By the way, Gaynor’s A Star Is Born, in which she stars opposite Fredric March, is available via a number of streaming services: Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, Kanopy, Fandor and (with ads) Tubi TV. You could do much worse in priming yourself for the new remake than to watch the original on Gaynor’s birthday.