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Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet(1940)


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The working titles of this film were The Life of Dr. Ehrlich, A Magic Bullet, Test 606 and The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet. An onscreen prologue reads: "This picture is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Paul Ehrlich whose dream it was to create out of chemicals 'magic bullets' with which to fight the scourges of mankind...and this is the story of his devotion to that ideal." The film ends with the following written epilogue: "...And the temples to his memory are the bodies of human beings purified and made whole." The reviews note that the screenplay was based upon material in the possession of the Ehrlich family.
       According to materials contained in the MPPDA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the PCA was reluctant to award a certificate of approval to this film. The code specifically forbade the use of venereal disease as a subject for films and consequently, executive producer Hal Wallis argued that the picture was not about venereal disease but a biographical film about Dr. Ehrlich. Wallis compared the film to The Life of Emile Zola and The Story of Louis Pasteur. In fact, the original title of the film, Test 606 was rejected by the MPPDA Title Committee because it referred to the cure for syphilis. The studio then changed the title to Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, thus changing the focus of the film to Dr. Ehrlich's achievements rather than his cure for syphilis. Although Joseph I. Breen, director of the PCA, accepted Wallis's argument, he worried that if the picture was awarded a certificate, it would open up the topic of venereal disease for discussion. In order to win approval, Wallis appealed to Will H. Hays, the president of the MPPDA, who issued a special executive order allowing the picture to be made. Hays directed the studio to minimize all references to syphilis and reduce it to an incident rather than the subject of the picture. He also instructed the studio to delete all scenes dealing with the treatment of syphilis and to refrain from mentioning the disease in advertising and publicity campaigns. The film was rejected in Peru and received an "adult permit" in England with the proviso that all use of the word syphilis be deleted from the film. John Huston, Heinz Herald and Norman Burnside were nominated for an Academy Award in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category.