Dr. Paul Ehrlich was the German physician who developed the first synthetic antimicrobial drug, 606 or Salvarsan. The film describes how Ehrlich first became interested in the properties of the then-new synthetic dyes and had an intuition that they could be useful in the diagnosis of bacterial diseases. After this work met with success, Ehrlich proposed that synthetic compounds could be made to selectively target and destroy disease causing microorganisms. He called such a drug a "magic bullet". The film describes how in 1908, after 606 attempts, he succeeded. Written by
This film generated controversy because many thought the subject of syphilis too scandalous a topic for a motion picture in 1940. See more »
In this film's first part, newspaper headlines talk of diptheria (sic). Must be the same ones who spell "opthalmology" (sic). The etymology of both words comes from Greek which confirms an "h" which is missing in both misspellings. Properly spelled, they are "diphtheria" and "ophthalmology." See more »
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet works magic on the viewer
Of all the great biographical flicks Hollywood pumped out in the late 30's and early 40's, such as "Juarez," "The Story of Louis Pasteur," "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," and "The Life of Emile Zola," "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" is the best. And that's saying a lot since the ones mentioned above are screen classics from the Golden Age. In "Magic Bullet" everything seems to gel, from the brilliant acting of all involved, including once-in-a-lifetime performances by Edward G. Robingson, Otto Kruger, Ruth Gordon, and Maria Ouspenskaya, to the outstanding direction of William Dieterle. Also this biography is far more factual and less sensational than the others from the period. Even the subject involved in the biography was somewhat taboo in 1940, syphilis. Many in the movie audiences of 1940 may have reacted the same way the guests at Franziska Speyer's dinner party reacted upon hearing the word. Though not at all shocking today, it must have been somewhat shocking then. I'm sure that's why it was handled with kid gloves by William Dieterle. On the other hand the problems Dr. Ehrlich faced in getting support for his magic bullet is comparable with problems faced by today's scientists in getting funding to do needed research to find a cure for AIDS.
The writers, who included John Huston, did the research needed for an intelligent and well-written script. The viewer may hesitate to watch at first when he/she discovers that the movie is about a German scientist who discovered an effective treatment for syphilis, but just pay attention for a few seconds and there is no turning back. Seeing the entire film becomes necessary. So enjoy a masterpiece from the past.
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