A Message to Garcia (1936 film)

A Message to Garcia

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Marshall
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Elbert Hubbard (essay)
Gene Fowler
Sam Hellman
Gladys Lehman
W. P. Lipscomb
Starring Wallace Beery
Barbara Stanwyck
John Boles
Alan Hale, Sr.
Music by Louis Silvers
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Edited by Herbert Levy
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
April 10, 1936
Running time
77 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Message to Garcia is a 1936 American war film directed by George Marshall and starring Wallace Beery and Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles and Alan Hale, Sr.. The film is inspired by the 1899 essay A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard, loosely based on an incident during the Spanish–American War. The essay had previously been made into a 1916 silent film A Message to Garcia. Agent Rowan carries a message from President McKinley to General Garcia the leader of a rebellion against Spanish rule on the island of Cuba during the time of the Spanish–American War.


The film opens with the Maine Incident of 1898 in which an American warship blew-up in Havana harbor, allegedly following sabotage by Spain, triggering the outbreak of the Spanish–American War. President McKinley, wishing to make contact with General Calixto García, the leader of the Cuban revolt against Spain, summons an American army officer Andrew Summers Rowan to the White House and gives him a message which he is to personally deliver into Garcia's hands.

Rowan slips into Cuba with the aid of the crew of a neutral British ship. But after discovering his mission, the Spanish hire the cynical, amoral Doctor Krug to hunt down the American before he can reach Garcia. After learning in Havana of the general location of Garcia Rowan sets out in the company of Raphaelita, a Cuban Patriot whose father has been killed by the Spanish, and Sergeant Dory, a deserter from the American marines. Both are convinced that Rowan won't make it across the dangerous Cuban interior without help.

Aided by villages of Cuban patriots, they make their way towards their destination. They also encounter Henry Piper, a British merchant from Sheffield, who has become lost in the Cuban interior. Spanish troops led by Krug remain constantly on their trail, and succeed in wounding Raphaelita. Rowan leaves Dory behind to care for her, but she orders Dory to go after Rowan to make sure he gets safely to his destination, believing that his message is more important than any one of their lives. Dory successfully guides Rowan past alligator-infested swamps and Spanish patrols and delivers the Lieutenant to where he believes Garcia is, not realising that the area has recently been overrun by the Spaniards. Rowan falls into the hands of the Spanish, and Doctor Krug begins torturing to discover the whereabouts of the message which Rowan has hidden in the barrel of his pistol.

Dory, meanwhile, has been captured by the Cuban rebels who wish to execute him for having previously sold them useless ammunition. Dory's personal appeal to Garcia for help to rescue Rowan, who he now realises is in Spanish hands, is refused and he faces the firing squad. Only the dramatic arrival of the British merchant Piper who verifies the truth of Dory's story saves the American from being shot. Garcia begins organizing a rescue attempt which Dory volunteers for.

Rowan has resisted torture, and refused to break. But when the Spanish bring in Raphaelita, whom they have captured, she tries to persuade him to end his suffering and reveal the message. He still resists, holding out long enough until the Cubans launch a major assault on the Spanish positions. Dory rescues Rowan, but is killed in the process. Rowan presents McKinley's message to Garcia who tells him "this message means the liberation of our people".



The film was made by the independent company Twentieth Century Pictures, but was distributed by Fox following the merger between the two outfits. Twentieth Century had developed a reputation for producing high-budget prestige films, and this was one of the company's final efforts. The parts of Dory and Raphaelita are fictional and were created to provide roles for Beery and Stanwyck, who were well-established box office stars. The British comedian Herbert Mundin appeared to add comic relief in his role as an English merchant. Dell Henderson plays President William McKinley but with a stentorian voice dubbed by John Carradine.

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