Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940): Edward G. Robinson as Syphilis Researcher

This is one of Warner’s most intriguing biopics of “Great Men,” a film cycle that began in the early 1930s.

Almost unrecgnozable, Edward G. Robinson plays the German researcher Paul Erlich, who discovered “Formula 606,” the cure for syphilis.

As society would prefer to ignore the disease, Erlich his life underfunded and frustrated.  But a rational dowager (Maria Ouspenskaya), who has faith in Erlich, provides the necessary funds to develop Formula 606.

Once the serum is made public, Erlich’s reputation is threatened when some individuals die, ostensibly as a result of the “cure.”  Though brought up on criminal charges, Erlich is exonerated by his old colleague Dr. Von Behring (Otto Kruger).

The film was considered audacious due to its “taboo” subject.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Original Screenplay:  Norman Burnside, Heinz Herald, and John Huston

Oscar Context:

The winner was Preston Sturges for the comedy The Great McGinty.


Running time: 103 minutes.