The White Legion (1936) 




Director: Karl Brown.

Starring: Ian Keith (Dr. Julian Murray), Tala Birell (Dr. Sternee), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Dr. Fontaine), Suzanne Kaaren (Gloria Blank), Lionel Pape (Dr. Travis), Rollo Lloyd (The Colonel), Teru Shimada (Dr. Nogi), Nigel De Brulier (Father Gonzales), Nina Campana (Maria), Warner Richmond (Burke), Ferdinand Munier (Sen. Blank), Harry Allen (McKenzie), Don Barclay (Miggs), 'Snub' Pollard (Baker), Robert Warwick (Capt. Parker).

the medical search for the cure for yellow fever killing so many workers on the Panama Canal



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

Before the building of the Panama Canal was possible, a great enemy had to be defeated.

At the hospital there is a sign saying Quarantine: Yellow Fever. They bring in a man suffering from the disease and place him with many others suffering from the same thing. A fellow dies, so they take the body to the morgue. Itís the ninth one for the day.

Captain Moore writes a letter. June 7, 1905. "It is folly to attempt any further construction work on the canal until the yellow fever has been licked. The experience of the French should offer conclusive proof. They spent $260 million dollars and lost 25,000 lives. The present epidemic is being fought along the lines approved by Dr. Reed in Havana, but, unfortunately, the men believe that weíre trying to wipe out the disease by killing everyone who has it. "   "It is absolutely imperative that we prevent the escape of any carrier of the disease from this quarantined area."

Some of the men say they should try to bust out. The guard is overcome and his pistol taken. Captain Moore is shot with the guardís pistol as he calls for help. Many soldiers rush in to subdue the attempted break-out. Captain Mooreís bullet is taken out of him in surgery.

In the Officerís Ward things are more cheery. The men who foiled the escape have some liquor and are drunk and singing a song. A medical officer tells the men that drinking in their condition could kill them. The men seem unconcerned.

Some workers on the canal come to the Colonel and complain that they came here to dig a canal, not to get experimented on. A spokesman says he is taking out his boys and getting them on the next boat out of here. The officer says that no one is leaving this zone until the fever is over.

The Colonel goes over to his office. There are 25 new dead and 80 new cases. Dr. Harper is one of the dead. A US senator is in the office complaining that the army wouldnít let him leave the area on a boat. The senator says heís going and the Colonel canít stop him. The Colonel tells the senator that the guards will shout halt three times and then shoot to kill. The senator now says that itís important that his daughter Gloria be allowed to leave the zone. She is about to be married. The Colonel still wonít let anyone leave.

The last boat leaves. There will be no more coming in or going out of ships. A number of doctors have come on the last boat to tend to the sick and try to find a cure. One of them is Dr. Murray who knows the Senator. There is also a professor who has come to the zone.

No one knows what yellow jack is. Dr. Murray congratulates the Colonel on his role in helping to keep the mosquito population way down in Havana. Senator Blank say the mosquito theory is without foundation. Dr. Murray letís it be known that it was Senator Blank that had Dr. Reed and the others called back from Havana for running experiments on the men. The Senator says there will be others recalled this time too, once he gets in touch with Washington again. He leaves. Before Gloria leaves, she tells the doctors and the Colonel not to let the Senator spoil any good relations between them all. She invites them all to lunch.

The Colonel tells the doctors that the zone is 20 by 50 miles. There are thee medical teams in the field already. For its part, the army is actively wiping out the mosquitoes. The doctors are excited about the possibility of wiping out the disease in the area.

Gloria says she wants to go with Dr. Murray and the medical team, but Murray says itís safer if she stays put. The area they are going to used to be the worst fever district in the entire zone. Senator Blank says that when he gets to Washington, with what he knows, the canal project will be dropped immediately.

The medical team heads out along with army personnel pulling along the mules carrying supplies. At a deserted French outpost on the Rio Tigre, the scientists search for the seeds of Yellow Death.  The soldiers drove a ragged army of natives through the reeking jungles, spraying oil over miles of swamp.

At the outpost it is raining hard. A group of sprayers are released from duty for the day. The medical team arrives at the outpost. Dr. Murray is sending the woman doctor, Dr. Sterne, back. She interprets this as a rejection of her personally. Dr. Murray tries to explain that this isnít the reason. She begs him not to send her away and he agrees not to.

The doctors are staying at a church acting as a hotel and now they all have their dinner together. The Senator and Gloria arrive. There is some competition between Gloria and Dr. Sterne for the attention of Dr. Murray. The Senator and Gloria have to take disinfectant baths that neither cares for.

Gloria listens attentively to Dr. Murray as he explains his work with the mosquitoes raised in sterile conditions. Bad news arrives. One of the sprayers has come down with yellow fever. Now all the sprayers are examined physically. One of the men has it and he tries to run away. The guard yells halt three times and then shoots and wounds the escapee.

Dr. Murray calls in an army of workers to cut down everything to make a cleared zone around the outpost. The men clear and burn everything and then spray oil everywhere. The Senator tries to sneak out of the zone with Gloria, but they are stopped by a soldier.

The Japanese doctor goes in to take a child from the mother and father in order to check out the childís health. A number of workers start to sneak up to the dispensary to get the child back. A worker throws a machete at the dispensary window and it goes through the opening cutting the left forearm of Dr. Sterne. The soldiers fire over the heads of the workers. Father Gonzales comes to say that they must not kill his people.

The superstitious people believe that Japanese Dr. Nogi is a devil. Father Gonzales has to pretend to give him a beating to show that his magic is more powerful than that of the Japanese devil. Dr. Nogi takes off his shirt and goes out to Father Gonzales to receive his "beating".

Soldiers and doctors fighting together, wipe out the disease. Even the natives dance in the Death house. The soldiers play baseball. Gloria tries to work her wiles on Dr. Murray. Dr. Sterne sees the two laughing and she doesnít like it.

The natives bring gifts to the doctors for their defeating yellow fever. They give the Japanese doctor a mischievous monkey, who almost immediately goes and knocks over all the jars with the mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes escape.

The professor comes down with yellow fever. He dies. The flag is flown at half mast and the body is buried in a simple ceremony with Father Gonzales officiating.

Dr. Murray says that the problem is that one of the medical group is a carrier of the disease.  After all, the new outbreak started with them. Therefore, they must stay in quarantine. So now the medical people will be guinea pigs to find out who is the carrier. The Senator says he wonít cooperate, so Dr. Murray has to bully him a bit. They find out that it is Gloria who is the carrier. Dr. Nogi volunteers now to be bitten by the infected mosquito, but Dr. Murray is the one who lets the mosquito bite him. Soon he develops symptoms of yellow jack.

The Senator and Gloria are going to leave, but Dr. Murray says they cannot leave. Gloria is a carrier and will spread death wherever she goes. But what can they do with "this hostess of death"?

Dr. Murray takes Gloria into his laboratory by force. Dr. Nogi locks the door. Dr. Murray places Gloria on the laboratory table and implants tissues from the dead professor into her. This is 10,000 times more powerful than a natural infection so that the disease she carries may destroy itself with its own venom. Deliberate infection, says the Colonel, "... thatís murder."

Murray survives the yellow fever. And so does Gloria. Dr. Murray was unconscious for three weeks. Gloria is no longer a carrier and she thanks Murray for that. Dr. Sterne helped save Murrayís life. He was very close to death and Dr. Sterne gave Murray a blood transfusion with her own blood. But Dr. Murray has made history.  When they are alone, Dr. Murray thanks Dr. Sterne for saving his life. He asks her first name and she says: "Doctor."

Gloria comes to Dr. Murray with good news. He has been accepted for a position in Tropical Medicine in Washington, D.C. The Senator arranged it for Dr. Murray. Gloria says he will have a big laboratory and all the staff and money that he needs. Dr. Sterne says sadly: "Good luck."

Waiting to go home by boat, Dr. Murray decides to stay and go on to Ecuador with Drs. Sterne, Nogi and Travis. Dr. Sterne is especially happy about the news.


This is a B movie with a very low budget.  But I still enjoyed the movie.  The version I saw has a lot of background noise and at times it's hard to understand what the actors are saying.  Nevertheless, it was still interesting.  I didn't really know how much was involved in conquering yellow fever.  Nor did I realize the bravery of the medical personnel and others in volunteering to fight the disease when it meant a high probability of dying.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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