The Magic Bullet

The Magic Bullet

Infobox Film | name=Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet
director = William Dieterle
producer = Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Wolfgang Reinhardt (executive producer)
writer = Norman Burnstine
Heinz Herald
John Huston
starring = Edward G. Robinson
Ruth Gordon
Otto Kruger
Donald Crisp
distributor = Warner Bros. Pictures
released = February 23, 1940
country = USA
runtime = 103 min
language = English
imdb_id = 0032413
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" is a 1940 biographical film directed by William Dieterle and starring Edward G. Robinson, based on the true story of the German doctor and scientist Dr. Paul Ehrlich. The film was released by Warner Bros., with some controversy considering the subject of syphilis in a major studio release. It was nominated for an Academy Award for its original screenplay (by Norman Burnstine, Heinz Herald and John Huston), but lost to "The Great McGinty".


Paul Ehrlich (Edward G. Robinson) is a physician working in a German hospital. He is dismissed for his constant disregard for hospital rules, which are bound by bureaucratic red tape. The reason for his conflict is his steadily-rising interest in research for selective color staining, the marking of cells and microorganisms, using certain dyes and marking agents, which, as he describes in the film, have a certain 'affinity' to that which is to be stained and nothing else. Emil von Behring, whom Dr. Ehrlich meets and befriends, while experimenting with his staining techniques, is impressed with Dr. Ehrlich's staining methods and refers to it as 'specific staining,' adding that this is one of the greatest achievements in science, especially for diagnostic purposes, based on optical microscopia. After attending a medical presentation of one Dr. Koch (Albert Basserman) showing that tuberculosis is a bacterial disease, Ehrlich is able to obtain a sample of the isolated bacterium. After an intense time of research and experimentation in his own lab, paired with a portion of luck, he is able to develop a staining process for this bacterium. This result is honored by Koch and medical circles as a highly valuable contribution to diagnostics.

During his work, Dr. Ehrlich is infected with tuberculosis, a disease still known as being deadly. Therefore, Ehrlich travels with his wife Hedwig (Ruth Gordon) to Egypt for recovery and relief. There he starts to discover the properties of the human body with regard to immunity. This discovery helps Ehrlich and colleague Emil von Behring (Otto Kruger) to fight a diphtheria epidemic that is killing off many children in the country. The two doctors are rewarded for their efforts.

Ehrlich concentrates on work to create his "magic bullets" - chemicals injected into the blood to fight various diseases. The medical board, headed by Dr. Hans Wolfert (Sig Ruman), believes much of Ehrlich's work is a waste of money and resources and fight for a reduction, just as Ehrlich begins to work on a cure for syphilis. Ehrlich is financially backed by the widow of Jewish banker Georg Speyer, Franziska Speyer (Maria Ouspenskaya) and after 606 tries he finally discovers the remedy for the disease. This substance, first called "606", is now known as Arsphenamine or Salvarsan.

The joy of discovery is short-lived, as 38 patients who receive the treatment die. Dr. Wolfert takes Ehrlich to court to stop the use of 606, but Dr. Von Bering (who had earlier told Ehrlich to give up his pipe dreams of cures by chemicals) believes that 606 is responsible for the death of syphilis itself. Ehrlich is exonerated, but the strain and stress from the trial are too much for his ill body and he dies shortly thereafter, first telling his assistants and colleagues about taking risks with regard to medicine.


*Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Paul Ehrlich
*Ruth Gordon as Hedwig Ehrlich
*Otto Kruger as Dr. Emil Von Behring
*Donald Crisp as Minister Althoff
*Maria Ouspenskaya as Franziska Speyer

ee also

*Tuberculosis (TB)
*Side-chain theory

External links

* [ Short description of the Movie "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" from William Dieterle, dated 1940]

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