Wednesday, October 24, 2007

From the Department of Movie Cliches

I was flipping channels a couple of nights ago when I happened upon Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet on Turner Classic Movies. It's a 1940 biopic starring Edward G. Robinson about Paul Ehrlich, a turn-of-the-century German physician and medical researcher who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1909. He coined the term "chemotherapy," and he is noted for discovering (along with Sahachiro Hata) the first effective drug for the treatment of syphilis. This latter accomplishment is the primary focus of the movie, and I find it amazing that a 1940 movie could deal frankly with the search for a cure for a sexually transmitted disease. In any event, this is a perfectly competent and entertaining movie, and I think that Edward G. Robinson deserves praise for his performance and that the screenwriters did an outstanding job explaining the gist of Ehrlich's scientific theory (relating to the development of "magic bullet" molecules that could neutralize and kill pathogens) without making it cartoonish or absurd. But what really stood out to me was the way th movie used newspaper headlines to advance the plot. The fact that they used this device isn't unusual -- it's a standard movie cliche. What is unusual is that all of the newspapers pictured were in Gothic font -- both the headlines and the text. I suppose that the props department thought that they had to emphasize the fact that Ehrlich was German.

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