Cast & Crew
After many Americans have died fighting the Spanish in Cuba in 1898, President William McKinley sends Lieutenant Rowan to find Cuban General Garcia and his men, who are surrounded by Spaniards, and give him a message concerning the place where U.S. forces will land. In Havana, the infamous spy Dr. Ivan Krug is assigned to locate the messenger. Krug and the Spanish patrol find Rowan in a cafe, and Sergeant Dory, an American expatriate, knocks Krug cold during the ensuing melee. He then takes the belt in which Rowan has hidden the message and drags the unconscious Rowan out. When Rowan revives, he threatens to kill Dory for looking at the message, but Dory offers, for one hundred gold pieces, to lead him to old man Maderas, whose son is on General Garcia's staff. At the Maderas plantation, Rowan and Dory witness the old man's death by a Spanish firing squad as they hide. Maderas' daughter Raphaelita arrives and offers to lead Rowan to Garcia, but warns that Dory is loyal only to the side that pays him the most. In the swamp, when Lita is shot in the leg, Dory removes the bullet, while Rowan embraces her. Lita sends Rowan off after they express their mutual love, and then tells Dory, whom Rowan has instructed to look after her, to follow and see that he gets through. When Dory catch up with Rowan and untruthfully tells him that Lita has died, Rowan decides to turn back, but Dory dissuades him and reveals that he himself deserted the Marines ten years earlier. Lita is captured as Dory leads Rowan to Garcia's headquarters. Inside, Rowan finds Krug instead of the general, whose troops have left, and although he is tortured, Rowan does not reveal that the message is hidden in the barrel of his gun, a hiding place suggested by Dory. Meanwhile, Dory is captured by Garcia's men and is about to be shot, when an English tinware salesman, who met Dory, Rowan and Lita in the swamp, convinces Garcia that Dory's story is true. Garcia's men storm the headquarters just as Krug finds the message, and a badly wounded Dory shoots him. He dies in Rowan's arms, Garcia gets the message, and Rowan and Lita are reunited.
Jose Luis Tortosa
Miguel De Zárraga
José Peña "pepet"
François B. De Valdes
W. P. Lipscomb
Joseph M. Schenck
Darryl F. Zanuck
A Message to Garcia
John Boles stars as U.S. Army Lt. Andrew Rowan, who is sent by President William McKinley in 1898 to Cuba to deliver an important message to General Calixto Garcia, leader of the Cuban revolutionaries fighting the Spanish. The United States has been provoked into the war by Spain, and McKinley wants to enlist the help of Garcia's men. With the message sealed in wax and strapped to his body, Rowan makes his way to Cuba where he must deal with murderous Spaniards, a crocodile-infested jungle, and medieval-style torture (doled out by Alan Hale, no less!), while also finding time for romance before he finally locates the general.
In reality, Rowan did exist and he did deliver a message to Garcia, but the message was verbal, and none of the melodramatics happened, though he did run the genuine risk of being captured as a spy. McKinley also ordered Rowan to report back on Spanish manpower and weaponry on the island, which he did, successfully. Later, Rowan commanded a troop of American soldiers in the war and received the Distinguished Service Cross.
In 1899, writer Elbert Hubbard wrote a brief essay called A Message to Garcia, which was not about Rowan's feat per se, but rather used Rowan's story as an example to illustrate the kind of reliability, competence and initiative that Elbert found all too lacking in most American workers. Rowan didn't ask questions once he was given his assignment, Hubbard explained, he just went off and figured out how to accomplish it efficiently. "Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals," wrote Hubbard, "the man who can 'Carry A Message to Garcia.'"
Hubbard's essay was eventually published in pamphlet form and translated into three dozen languages, selling many millions of copies. (The essay can easily be found online.) It entered the public consciousness to such a degree that the phrase "carry a message to Garcia" became a popular expression, basically meaning "just get on with it without making a fuss."
A Message to Garcia was first made as a silent film in 1916 by Thomas Edison. For the 1936 version, additional source material included Rowan's own memoir, but again, accuracy was not really a concern.
Critics of the day were savage, blasting the film for its fictionalizing of a famous and beloved wartime event. The New York Times, for instance, labeled the screenplay "ridiculous" and called the overall film "historical claptrap... almost silly enough to pass for burlesque. Neither badly stated fact nor well-handled fiction, it stands forth nakedly as an absurd and trivial melodrama which is made all the more annoying because Twentieth Century-Fox would have you believe it was partly true."
Trade paper Variety was a bit more willing to judge the film on its own terms. While acknowledging the script gave "no thought of fidelity to the historical incident upon which this picture is based," it praised the film for its "robust" melodrama and "first-rate production." Even Variety, however, had a tough time accepting Barbara Stanwyck in this one, calling her badly miscast as "a Cuban girlie who speaks her native language with an English accent and English with no accent at all." On the other hand, several critics agreed that Boles was excellent as Rowan, and that co-star Wallace Beery practically stole the picture as a soldier of fortune.
A Message to Garcia was produced by 20th Century Pictures and distributed by the newly formed 20th Century-Fox -- one of the first titles to bear that new logo. Seen today, audiences can enjoy it for what it is: a melodrama that uses the "message to Garcia" story as a starting point for an amusing adventure with an eclectic cast.
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Lieutenant Andrew S. Rowan (book); Elbert Hubbard (essay); Gene Fowler, Sam Hellman, Gladys Lehman, W.P. Lipscomb
Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
Art Direction: William S. Darling, Rudolph Sternad
Film Editing: Herbert Levy
Cast: Wallace Beery (Sgt. Dory), Barbara Stanwyck (Raphaelita Maderos), John Boles (Lt. Andrew Rowan), Alan Hale (Dr. Ivan Krug), Herbert Mundin (Henry Piper), Mona Barrie (Spanish Spy), Enrique Acosta (General Calixto García), Juan Torena (Luís Maderos), Martin Garralaga (Rodríguez), Blanca Vischer (Chiquita)
by Jeremy Arnold
Elbert Hubbard, A Message to Garcia
Dan Callahan, Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman
A Message to Garcia
This film was prepared by 20th Century Pictures, Inc. before their merger with Fox Film Corp. According to the New York Times review, the film diverged from historical fact in the following instances: the message, really oral, was the statement by President McKinley that the U.S. was declaring war on Spain and was eager for General Garcia's cooperation; Rowan was also sent to collect information about Spanish manpower and armaments; he made the trip safely and saw no Spaniards; the characters of Dory, Lita, Krug and the tinware saleman were fictional. Author Elbert Hubbard died on the S.S. Lusitania when it was sunk by Germany on May 7, 1915. At the time of the film's released, General Calixto Garcia Iniguez was seventy-nine-years-old and retired, according to New York Times. Daily Variety reported that because the resemblance to Garcia of actor Enrique Acosta was so striking, an extra, who was a veteran of the Cuban insurrection, thought that the general had risen to lead his troops again.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Roy Del Ruth was originally scheduled to direct the film, but he was moved to It Had to Happen. In September 1935, it was reported that John Ford would direct this film upon his return from a vacation in Florida, before George Marshall was given the assignment. According to Hollywood Reporter, Wallace Beery was loaned by M-G-M originally to be in Twentieth Century-Fox's Professional Soldier (see below), but he was cast in this film instead. New York Times stated that Beery, whose regular salary at M-G-M was $6,000 a week, was paid $75,000 for his work in the film. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Simone Simon was origianlly cast as the female lead before she was replaced by Rita Cansino (later known as Rita Hayworth) because of Cansino's proficiency in both English and Spanish. She ultimately was replaced by Barbara Stanwyck. Actors from Twentieth Century-Fox's Spanish stock company appeared in the film. William Stelling, Helen MacKellar, Si Jenks and Pat Flaherty were listed as cast members in Hollywood Reporter production charts, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, while the film was in production, the Spanish minister in Washington "intimated" to Twentieth Century-Fox that Spain would ban all of their films if this film was "in the least bit considered offensive to Spanish-speaking people." The Spanish government earlier had issued a similar warning to Paramount regarding the film The Devil Is a Woman. No further information has been located concerning the threat to Twentieth Century-Fox. An earlier film with the same title, which was also based on Hubbard's essay, was produced by Thomas A. Edison, Inc. in 1916, directed by Richard Ridgely and starred Robert Conness and Mabel Trunnelle (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2913).