YELLOW JACK is the story of Major Walter Reed (Lewis Stone) and his work in Cuba -- circa 1900 -- discovering the cause of yellow fever.
Although the film is fictionalized, including changing the names of the soldiers who volunteered to assist Reed in his experiments, the basic outline of the story is true: with the help of human volunteers, Reed proved that mosquitoes transmitted the dread disease.
The lead volunteer in the film is Sergeant John O'Hara, an Irish soldier portrayed by Robert Montgomery, in a particularly fine performance. Virginia Bruce plays the dedicated nurse pursued by O'Hara.
The large supporting cast includes Buddy Ebsen, Sam Levene, Andy Devine, Henry O'Neill, Charles Coburn, Henry Hull, Alan Curtis, Phillip Terry, William Henry, and Jonathan Hale. The movie was shot in black and white and runs a fast-paced 83 minutes.
Cuba is obviously set entirely on MGM soundstages, except for some second-unit footage of a Cuban village near the end of the film, but the artificial setting doesn't detract from the film's power, especially as the viewer knows that the story of determined doctors and exceptionally brave volunteers is true. It's a very interesting piece of American, medical, and military history. The acting is uniformly excellent, as one might expect given the caliber of the names in the cast.
YELLOW JACK was directed by George B. Seitz. Seitz began directing in the silent era. He specialized in B pictures at MGM in the late '30s and '40s, including countless entries in the ANDY HARDY series. The Seitz-directed film MY DEAR MISS ALDRICH (1937) was reviewed here in 2007.
YELLOW JACK has not been released on video or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the channel's website.