“Are You Fit to Marry” is a 1927 silent film that promotes eugenics. Contained within it is a re-release of a popular 1916 motion picture, “The Black Stork,” adapted by W.H. Stafford from a story by Jack Lait and produced by William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service. In the framing story of “Are You Fit to Marry?,” a male physician whose daughter has just announced that she is in love and plans to be married, pressures the daughter’s suitor to undergo a physical examination for eugenic fitness before he (the father) will approve the marriage. The father illustrates the need for eugenic fitness by telling the story of two couples. In this inner story illustration, one couple marries despite concerns about their eugenic fitness – the tragic outcome of their marriage is told through the film “The Black Stork.” This film portrays a foreordained difficult future that will come to pass when eugenic risks are not respected. The man in this couple marries despite the fact that he knows that he was conceived out of wedlock (a eugenic risk). Ultimately, in fulfillment of this predestined future, he and his wife become parents of a deformed infant delivered by “the black stork.” The film, “The Black Stork,” portrays the nightmarish future life awaiting this child. At the end of the film, a physician who favors allowing “defective” newborns to die convinces the initally reluctant parents that they should agree to withhold treatment from their son to allow him to die. The tale of the black stork is told from tape time 12:42 to tape time 13:15. See the book, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of “Defective” Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 by Martin Pernick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) for more information about this short, silent film. The other couple portrayed in the inner story, swear their love for one another, but do not marry because the woman’s mother committed suicide (another eugenic risk). The fear exists that the woman might have inherited her mother’s mental illness (the “obvious” cause for suicide) and could thus pass it on to any child that she bore. Because of this concern, the couple resists the urge to marry. Fortunately, after many years, an old family friend tells the woman that it was her step-mother who committed suicide, not her biological mother. Unbeknownst to her, her biological mother had died in childbirth. The second couple now has great happiness—she is able to marry without fear of a visit from “the black stork.” The second, virtuous couple is rewarded for their steadfast adherence to and repect for eugenic laws and finally are able to marry.
Format: VHS black and white
Are You Fit to Marry? The Black Stork (1927; 1916) is part of the Bioethics Film Collection at Georgetown University and you may request this film for viewing in the Bioethics Research Library or to reserve for classroom use. Please note that we are currently processing this collection and some films may not be available immediately.
Primary Bioethics Classification: 15.5
All Bioethics Classifications: 15.5
Date released: 1927