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 »
When Dr. Ehrlich (Edward G. Robinson) is on trial, the prosecutor says: "We are not concerned with the rosy future Dr. Ehrlich paints; the revelant point is..." What he meant to say was "relevant". See more »
Dr. Paul Ehrlich:
[about his fellow doctors]
To argue with them is like discussing colors with the color-blind.
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Warner Brothers' courageous bio of a gifted and important scientist
"Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" is the story of the groundbreaking Nobel prize winner Paul Ehrlich, credited with many discoveries still critical in the practice of medicine today, and perhaps most importantly, for finding the cure for syphilis. This is an important film for the use of the word 'syphilis' which was the basis of a fight between the Hays code and Warners. But Ehrlich's story deserved telling, and you couldn't do it without using the word syphilis.
The beginning of the film shows Dr. Ehrlich in Germany futilely treating patients who have the disease, though nothing can really help them. It chronicles his rise up the scientific ranks through his use of staining organisms so that they could be seen under the microscope, his work in disease resistance, and finally, after long experiments with an arsenical compound - 606, in fact - the discovery of a cure for syphilis.
For me, one reason to watch bios is that I develop interest in the subjects and seek out more information; after all, some Hollywood stories are less factual than others. Though I'm sure a lot of Ehrlich's life had to be telescoped, the film certainly hits the highlights, and portrays him as a gifted scientist and vigorous innovator obsessed with his work.
Edward G. Robinson was always a good actor in the right role, but as Dr. Ehrlich, he is magnificent, totally immersing himself in the character and drawing the audience in. Stage actress Ruth Gordon, for whom movie stardom was about 28 years off, gives a lovely, understated performance as Ehrlich's wife. The rest of the cast is excellent, from Otto Kruger as a fellow scientist and friend, right down to a small role by Louis Calhern.
The movie is a little too sentimental at times by today's standards, I suppose, but the only thing that really bothered me was the lack of presence of Ehrlich's daughters at the film's end. At the beginning of the movie, we see them as youngsters, and reference is made to them later as being married. Would it have killed Warners to have two female extras at the end of the film? We would have known who they were.
I don't know if Ehrlich really said that diseases of the body will not be conquered until we conquer diseases of the soul, but it's a great and true thought. He was in fact a victim of a disease of the soul: there was a street in Frankfurt named after him, but the name was changed in the '30s because Ehrlich was Jewish. Later, it was reinstated.
This is a marvelous movie, a real must-see.
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