Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet Reviews
With an OK script and solid supporting cast.
The film was controversial at the time for mentioning the disease "syphilis" by name, and I'm sure a little bit of sensationalism is why Jack Warner thought that Dr. Ehrlich's biography would be good material for a film, but there's something more subtle going on here. Made in 1940, after the Nazi menace had been recognized by many but before America had been attacked, there are many not so subtle digs at Germany to be found here. Early in the film several of Ehrlich's colleagues are ratting him out to the head of the hospital for not following hospital rules. Specifically, Ehrlich realizes that the sweat baths prescribed as the treatment of syphilis at the time - 1890 - are of no value whatsoever. When a patient of Ehrlich's says that the baths sap his strength and may cost him his job, Ehrlich says that he can skip the baths. This humane act of deviating from a useless treatment is the "rule" Ehrlich has broken, and what gets him called on the carpet by the head of the hospital. The whole incident is one of several that make the Germans look rigid and inhumane. The issue of Ehrlich's colleagues doubting his abilities because of his religion - he was Jewish - also comes up a few times. Finally, when the state budget committee that is financing Ehrlich's lab comes by for an inspection they chastise Ehrlich for hiring a "non-German" doctor. It's very effective but subtle criticism of the Germans that Warner Brothers did so well in the years leading up to the war.
One bone that Warner Brothers did have to throw to the censors because of the open discussion and showing of syphilis patients in various stages of the disease is that they could not show any female patients. They were only allowed to show male sufferers. I guess these guys all got this from "an inanimate object" as Dr. Ehrlich says is possible at one point in the film to downplay the sexual transmission angle of this disease.
? E.G. Robinson is unrecognizable with his beard, really amazing.
? It a film shot in 1940 presenting a series of German characters (if not all of them) under a normal and actually fairly positive light.
? It's a film about a Jewish doctor in Germany shot in 1940 in which his religion is only mentioned once.
? It is an attempt to introduce the masses to some basic ideas about science while remaining entertaining.