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Archive for the ‘Ruth Gordon’ Category

The Magic Bullet Of Dr. Ehrlich

18 Mar

The Magic Bullet of Dr. Ehrlich – directed by William Dieterle. Biopic. A German/Jewish doctor revolutionizes hematology and immunology. 103 minutes Black and White 1940.
★★★★★
Why I adore to watch Edward G. Robinson I simply do not know. Richard Burton said of him that if the most beautiful man in world and Edward G. Robinson were on the same stage together, no one would look at the beautiful man. He is my favorite actor. And he was one of the superstars of his era and his studio, Warners, along with a couple of other odd-looking blokes, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Robinson’s presence and authority, his ability to focus deeply, his ability to instantly switch course, his waking eyes which wake you up, his distinctive voice. Yes, all of that. But perhaps it is the simplicity and directness and immediacy of everything that he does. There is also his courageous heart, his kindness, his humor, his ability to take-it-in.

I don’t know. There is just something about him.

You would have thought he would be, like Charles Coburn, a hugely popular principal supporting actor. But no. He plays the lead always. The story is always about him. It is never about Coburn.

This is one of those biopics the era specialized in and that informed us, if not educated us, about Madame Curie (Greer Garson), Sister Kenny (Rosalind Russell), Gentleman Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn) et al. Dieterle directed some of them, and directs this one well.

The story of this remarkable laboratory scientist – who advanced microbe-dyeing so that a specific disease, such as tuberculosis, could actually be diagnosed by an ordinary physician; who pioneered the vaccine for diphtheria, who discovered the first specific for syphilis – is fairly accurate, and at all points riveting.

What makes it so is the photography of James Wong Howe. Every angle, every scene, every movement by the actors is held in narrative coherence and importance by his camera. He makes the picture exciting and he, in fact, tells its story. And he never intrudes.

Max Steiner did the score. The film was co-written by John Huston and boasts a list of supporting players so deep no modern film could equal it: Otto Kruger who is quite touching as Ehrlich’s best friend, Donald Crisp, Sig Ruman, Donald Meek, Henry O’Neill, Harry Davenport, Louis Calhern. Maria Ouspenskaya, a really bad actress from the Moscow Art Theatre, performs her usual portentous teeny grand dame, and Ruth Gordon doesn’t seem to know what to do as the housewife and mother of Ehrlich’s children. But, if you really want to know what great acting is in all its magnitude take in the great German Shakespearean Albert Bassermann in the role of an early unbeliever in Ehrlich.

Anyhow, I found all three acts of this picture thrilling. For me it didn’t date, because I am of that date. If this picture were made today, it couldn’t be half as good. Like Steinbeck, it was of its time, and has not lost its value for all that.

 
 
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