Yellow Jack


1h 23m 1938
Yellow Jack

Brief Synopsis

A Marine in turn-of-the-century Cuba risks his life in the fight to cure yellow fever.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
May 27, 1938
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 18 May 1938
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Yellow Jack by Sidney Howard in collaboration with Paul De Kruif (New York, 6 Mar 1934).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, Yellow Fever rages through Havanna, killing thousands of Cuban civilians and American soldiers. U.S. Army medical corps. surgeon Major Walter Reed and his staff are frustrated in their attempts to stop the disease's spread until Reed learns about an old theory of retired doctor Finlay. Reed visits Finlay and learns that nineteen years before, Finlay had proposed that a mosquito named the stegomia carried the disease. Because his theory was ridiculed, Finlay could not prove its validity and suggests to Reed that he could prove it now. Because the disease does not appear in animals, Reed realizes that he must scientifically test it on humans and decides to ask for volunteers among the soldiers stationed in Cuba. He knows that to prove the theory he must study two groups of men under controlled conditions. Though Reed is offering volunteers $300 each to participate in the experiment, no one comes forward. Nurse Frances Blake, who admires Reed and believes in his work, asks Sgt. John O'Hara, a solider who is in love with her, to volunteer himself, but he refuses to do so and the two quarrel. When Dr. Lester Lazear, one of Reed's staff, dies after being bitten by the mosquito himself, however, Breen a young soldier in O'Hara's platoon, gets the courage to volunteer. O'Hara and the rest of the men soon follow suit and Reed's experiment, which he plans to last twenty-days, begins. In one cottage, three of the men, Breen, "Jellybeans" and Busch, live in squalid conditions, among unwashed utensils and bed clothes used by men who had died of the fever. In the other cottage, O'Hara and Brinkerhoff stay in a scrupulously clean environment, but one of the them is bitten by the mosquito as the experiment starts. After many days, Brinkerhoff, who had been bitten by the mosquito, is the only who contracts the disease. Though the experiment is apparently successful and Brinkerhoff will recover, Reed knows that to be certain that the theory is correct, he must prove that O'Hara did not get the disease because he is simply naturally immune. Though Nurse Blake, who has now come to love O'Hara, begs him not to do so, he volunteers to be bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito. Soon he becomes gravely ill, but, through arduous work, Reed and his staff develop a serum to fight the disease, and O'Hara lives. Now knowing that the mosquito is the carrier of Yellow Fever, Reed's commanding officer, Major General Leonard Wood, orders his men to clean up Havana and its contaminated water supply, breeding grounds for the insect. After ninety days, their efforts are proven successful when no new cases of Yellow Fever are reported. Finally, Nurse Blake proposes to O'Hara and they plan to marry soon.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
May 27, 1938
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 18 May 1938
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Yellow Jack by Sidney Howard in collaboration with Paul De Kruif (New York, 6 Mar 1934).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 23m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8 reels

Articles

Yellow Jack -


Only at MGM would Judge Hardy and Mr. Dithers fight to cure yellow fever with the help of Jed Clampett and make it work dramatically. When Sidney Howard's dramatization of the fight to cure yellow fever became a success d'estime on Broadway, MGM snapped up its leading man, James Stewart, and the film rights. It took them four years to come up with a suitable adaptation, cutting a subplot about England's part in finding the cure and building up the part of a pretty nurse (Virginia Bruce) as a love interest for leading man Robert Montgomery (in Stewart's part). But they still stayed true to the original story about pioneering Dr. Walter Reed (Lewis Stone of the Andy Hardy movies) and his efforts to find the cause of a disease that was decimating U.S. forces in Cuba after the Spanish-American War. The top-notch cast includes Buddy Ebsen, Montgomery and Sam Levene (from the original Broadway cast) as soldiers volunteering to be guinea pigs, Jonathan Hale (of the Blondie series) as the military commander and Charles Coburn, in his film debut, as the Cuban doctor whose solution of the problem years earlier had been ignored.

By Frank Miller
Yellow Jack -

Yellow Jack -

Only at MGM would Judge Hardy and Mr. Dithers fight to cure yellow fever with the help of Jed Clampett and make it work dramatically. When Sidney Howard's dramatization of the fight to cure yellow fever became a success d'estime on Broadway, MGM snapped up its leading man, James Stewart, and the film rights. It took them four years to come up with a suitable adaptation, cutting a subplot about England's part in finding the cure and building up the part of a pretty nurse (Virginia Bruce) as a love interest for leading man Robert Montgomery (in Stewart's part). But they still stayed true to the original story about pioneering Dr. Walter Reed (Lewis Stone of the Andy Hardy movies) and his efforts to find the cause of a disease that was decimating U.S. forces in Cuba after the Spanish-American War. The top-notch cast includes Buddy Ebsen, Montgomery and Sam Levene (from the original Broadway cast) as soldiers volunteering to be guinea pigs, Jonathan Hale (of the Blondie series) as the military commander and Charles Coburn, in his film debut, as the Cuban doctor whose solution of the problem years earlier had been ignored. By Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Sidney Howard's play was based in part on Paul De Kruif's non-fiction book Microbe Hunters (New York, 1926), which included a chapter on the work of the real Maj. Walter Reed. Sam Levene was the only member of the original Broadway production of the play to appear in the film. According to a news item in Motion Picture Daily, Yellow Jack was banned in Cuba because the film failed to credit the real Dr. Finlay properly and because the Cuban government felt that the film gave a general distortion of the facts. The picture marked the feature-film debut of Charles Coburn, who had previous appeared in the 1933 short film Boss Tweed, playing the title role. Two ABC television dramas were also based on the same source, one in 1952, the other in 1955.