Yellow Jack

Gasser

Yellow Jack (1938)

     Robert Montgomery the soldier is certainly not my favorite incarnation of what has proven to be my favorite classic Hollywood hunk of the moment. I prefer the tuxedo-clad woman-chaser, a hint of which is found in Yellow Jack making it an enjoyable Montgomery flick.

     Montgomery is Sgt. O’Hara, part of the American medical corps stationed in Cuba in 1900 at the close of the Spanish-American war. Troops are being retained on the island as military doctors search for the cause of Yellow Fever, which seems to find a new victim very day. Discovering a particularly curious incident involving one soldier becoming ill after spending 10 days sharing food, water and lodging with a dozen other soldiers who remain well, Maj. Walter Reed (Lewis Stone) begins to suspect an insect bite is to blame. Information from another doctor on the island has the major looking to a particular species of mosquito as the culprit, but must experiment on men to prove it.

     When no soldiers immediately volunteer to take on such a risky job, nurse Francis Blake (Virginia Bruce) decides to take advantage of O’Hara’s fond feelings for her by trying to pursuade him to volunteer while on a romantic outing. O’Hara is offended and angry with the girl, but when he discovers his men are morally inclined to becoming involved but too scared to make a move, he opts to lead the way. An interesting experiment set up has O’Hara in a safe position, but to prove he is not immune to the disease, he must expose himself to the infected mosquitoes. Francis is opposed to the risk, but the soldier goes through and battles with Yellow Fever.

    Montgomery uses a subtle Irish accent for his character that I particularly liked. It made him seem more every-man unlike the wealthy roles he regularly played. He did not seem like a cad in his pursuit of the nurse but humble and genuine. Among his fellow soldier characters was Buddy Ebsen as “Jellybeans” who lent the entirity of comic relief as a redneck goofball.

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