Goodbye, Mr. Germ (1940 USA 15 mins)

Source: ACMI Prod Co: American Tuberculosis Association Dir: Edgar Ulmer

The short film Goodbye, Mr. Germ, Edgar Ulmer’s only foray into animation, was made for the American Tuberculosis Association in 1940 as a tool for educating children about the dangers of TB. In the live-action sequences a kindly professor invents a Germ Radio which enables him to interview Tee Bee, a bacterial braggart who boasts about how he travelled in a spoon of oatmeal that Aunt Mathilda (already infected) thoughtlessly fed to “little Edgar” after tasting it herself. That unfortunate child, doomed through no fault of his own, is not the only Ulmer hero in this complex little film: the cartoon sequences inside the human body, designed by Ulmer and animated by H.L. Roberts, strikingly anticipate the weird organic forms that imprison the characters in The Cavern (1965). Goodbye, Mr. Germ is also a sardonic coda to the period when Ulmer, blackballed from Hollywood, made films about ethnic minorities on the East Coast, beginning with features in Ukrainian and Yiddish and concluding with a series of shorts for the NTA aimed at Blacks, Mexicans and Navajo Indians. With his Germ Radio, the professor is a surrogate for the filmmaker: Tee Bee and his “tribe,” as they are called, are really the most ancient “traditional culture” [sic] that Ulmer filmed during his ethnic period, and not the only one threatened with extinction at the hands of science and reason.

Devotees of Ulmer’s way with a budget will be interested to know that Goodbye, Mr. Germ was budgeted at $4,799.75 and cost $5,410.13 to make. Another legend shattered.

About The Author

Bill Krohn is the author of Hitchcock au travail (1999), available in English as Hitchcock at Work (Phaidon Press, 2000). He has also been the Hollywood correspondent for Cahiers du Cinéma since 1978.