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…

Precode Movies 101: TCM Offers a Primer for Beginners


We’ve acknowledged that the precode era is one of our favorite era in movie history. For those that might not know, precode movies are those made after the ascent of sound but before the Hayes code, which greatly restricted the plot, language, and attitudes that Hollywood pictures were allowed to portray, began to be strictly enforced by the Breen office in 1934.

That quaint, wholesome quality you may associate with old movies? The pictures of the 1930s and ’40s that might convince you, if you don’t already know better, that life was simple, pure and uncomplicated back in the good old days? Those came after the code kicked in. Precode movies are another thing altogether.

Some pictures that typify the precode era are playfully bawdy; others are downright gritty, sometimes even a bit shocking today (though rarely very graphic, by our standards). Tomorrow (Tuesday, July 31st), TCM is giving precode neophytes the chance to do some serious catching up, as they’ll be airing precode favorites all day long, from 6am till 8pm. If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss was all about, here’s your chance to educate yourself.

If it’s gritty you’re looking for, we’d recommend Safe in Hell (1931) and Three on a Match (1932); if you’re just looking for a little salty fun, give Jewel Robbery (1932) and Blonde Crazy (1931) a look. But honestly, we recommend loading up your DVR with every one of these entertaining pictures; they all have something to recommend them.

Here’s the line-up (all times Eastern):
6:00 am — Downstairs (1932)
7:30 am — Loose Ankles (1930)
8:45 am — She Had to Say Yes (1933)
10:00 am — Faithless (1932)
11:30 am — Hell’s Highway (1932)
12:45 pm — Safe in Hell (1931)
2:00 pm — Jewel Robbery (1932)
3:15 pm — Three on a Match (1932)
4:30 pm — Footlight Parade (1933)
6:30 pm — Blonde Crazy (1931)

Happy 123rd Birthday, Mae West!

Actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol Mae West was born Mary Jane West 123 years ago today in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Here are 10 MW Did-You-Knows:

  • West was delivered in her family’s home by her midwife aunt. Her father was a prize fighter and, later, a private investigator.
  • Her first public performance is said to occurred at the age of five, when, ironically enough, she entertained at a church social at a still-extant Queens establishment called Neir’s Social Hall (now Neir’s Tavern). After that, she performed in local talent shows.
  • West’s first Broadway appearance came in a 1911 revue called A La Broadway, which was mounted by her former dancing teacher and long-time impresario of juvenile theatrical acts, Ned Wayburn. The revue folded after just eight performances.
  • Her first review in The New York Times, when she was 18 years old, stated, “A girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing.”
  • West began writing risqué plays under the name Jane Mast, and her first starring role on Broadway came in a 1926 play she wrote called Sex. Conservative critics and church groups objected to the play, but the production was a hit. Eventually, the pressure put on by the groups led to West being arrested and placed in jail at Jefferson Market Courthouse (it’s now a public library).
  • West could have paid a fine and remained free, but she opted for a sentence of ten days in jail, figuring it would be good publicity (it was).
  • Of the twelve pictures West appeared in, she wrote or co-wrote nine of them.
  • From the 1920s forward, West was an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
  • West’s 1928 play, Diamond Lil, earned her a ticket to Hollywood (the play was eventually adapted for the screen as She Done Him Wrong and costarred Cary Grant). She was nearly 40 when she signed her first movie contract.
  • After strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in 1934, putting a damper on her popularity (a toned-down Mae West wasn’t as appealing to the public), West performed in nightclubs, mounted a Las Vegas revue, made records (something she’d been doing since the 1930s) and wrote books. Her final film, Sextette (1978), closed out a career that had spanned more than seventy years.
  • Happy birthday, Mae West, wherever you may be!

    Mae West

    Happy 106th Birthday, Joan Bennett!

    Joan Bennett, sister of Constance Bennett, another Cladrite favorite, was part of a theatrical family that went back to the 18th century. She had a few tiny bits in the silent era, but got really busy once talkies came in and acted into the early 1980s.

    Bennett, who was born 106 years ago today in Pallisades, New Jersey, left a legacy in two of our favorite cinematic genres—Pre-Code and Film Noir—and we wish her the happiest of birthdays, wherever she may be.

    Joan Bennett