10 October 2005 | bkoganbing
The Walter Reed Story
Yellow Jack is a film that should be seen more often, if for no other reason than that people should know and appreciate who Walter Reed was and why the United States Army named its medical facility after him.
Sidney Howard had written a play about Reed and his efforts to find a cure for yellow fever, popularly called yellow jack. The original play brought in the British army efforts to do the same thing as well. All that was eliminated and we concentrate on Reed here. Just as well that movie audiences were not diverted from what was going on in Cuba.
Walter Reed was a member of the army medical corps who headed a team of doctors sent specifically to find a cure for yellow fever. Previous reviewers have noted what a scourge it was in the western hemisphere. During a hot summer, the mosquitoes who were the carriers, went as far north as our mid-Atlantic states.
Reed met a lot of resistance, but he was fortunate to have as the Governor General of Cuba after the Spanish American War, Leonard Wood. You see, Wood was a doctor and had joined the army medical corps himself. Wood is played in the film by Jonathan Hale.
Yellow Jack ran for 79 performances during 1934 and the part of the Irish sergeant was played by James Stewart on Broadway. In fact Stewart's performance was noticed by MGM which signed him and brought him to Hollywood. Why they didn't use him in the film, God only knows.
In his entire career in the cinema, I don't think Jimmy Stewart ever attempted any kind of accent, even when he was playing an ethnic or regional type. I'm sure he knew his limitations there.
Now I have heard far worse attempts at a brogue than Robert Montgomery's effort. It's passable enough and Montgomery is a skilled enough player to smooth over the rest. Montgomery is a sergeant in the medical corps and four of his men and he volunteer to be exposed to the Yellow Fever to prove a theory that certain mosquitoes spread the disease. The rest of the volunteers are Sam Levene, Alan Curtis, William Henry, and Buddy Ebsen. Sam Levene was the only member of the original Broadway cast to repeat his role on screen.
Lewis Stone, best known to movie audiences as Judge Hardy, is a stern and dedicated Walter Reed. Like so many scientists Reed met with a lot of ridicule from the medical profession. There always is ridicule until the experts are proved wrong.
If there is a flaw in the film it's Virginia Bruce. Her romance with Montgomery doesn't really advance the plot and she looks out of place, fresh as a daisy for someone working in the tropics.
I'd have liked to have seen more of Charles Coburn as the doctor who Reed based his ideas on and less of Ms. Bruce.
Still and all Yellow Jack is an entertaining and informative film about some very courageous people.