Communication contagion : director Edgar G. Ulmer's national tuberculosis films of 1939

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


In the last decade, a number of largely forgotten early 20th century medical science educational films have been located, restored and digitized for academic and public review. I present in this paper one particular series of films written and directed by the émigré Austrian director, Edgar Ulmer, for the National Tuberculosis Association's campaign of 1939. Set apart from other period mainstream classroom and academic contagion films, Ulmer's series was one of the first to address high contagion, socially marginalized populations through culturally inclusive film narratives. In this paper I will discuss how Ulmer broke with the narrowly accessible teaching conventions and utilized culturally embedded understandings of authority, race, gender and nationalism to motivate minority and at risk communities to comply with public health regulations. I will conclude that his seminal work in adapting medical science for accessible public consumption informs a broad and thereby more effective messaging in public medical media today.


The pharmacy on Mercury Street is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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