A Message to Garcia (1936)




Director:     George Marshall.

Starring:     Wallace Beery (Sergeant Dory), Barbara Stanwyck (Senorita Raphaelita Maderos), John Boles (Lieutenant 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), José Luis Tortosa (Pasquale Castova), Lucio Villegas (Commandant), Frederick Vogeding (German Stoker), Pat Moriarity (Irish Stoker), Octavio Giraud (Spanish Commandant).

Lt. Rowan's carrying a message from President McKinley to General Calixto Garcia in Cuba during the Spanish-American War



Spoiler Warning:

Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1898.  A sailor tells his girlfriend that she's acting like he was going to war or something.  The next scene is of the same ship coming home with lots of flag-draped coffins. 

The President of the United States gets a briefing on the situation in Cuba.  The speaker draws a circle around the Bayamo area.  [Bayamo is the capital city of the Granma Province of Cuba, and one of the largest cities in the Oriente region.]   Inside the circle, General Calixto Garcia commands what's left of the Cuban rebel army.  He's completely hemmed in by the Spaniards.  They have to get a message to Garcia as to where the American forces will be landing, so he can push toward us as the American troops are moving in his direction.  Another officer says that the area has a lot of fever-ridden swamps and thick forest.  To get a message to Garcia, they are going to send Lt. Andrew Rowan to the area. 

A woman tells the Spaniards that within 10 days an American officer will land on the coast of Cuba. This man will be carrying a message for Gen. Garcia.  Right now the man is in Jamaica.  The woman, however, doesn't know where the messenger will land.  She suggests that they put Dr. Ivan Krug on the job of finding the messenger. 

Dr. Krug boards a British ship in search of the American officer.  One of the guys on board is Canadian, but Krug tells him he thinks he's an American.  The guy replies that he doesn't care what the man thinks.  He says his papers will speak for him.  Krug tells his men that when the boat docks in Cuba to bring this man to him.  The Canadian is really Lt. Rowan.  He grabs a row boat and starts rowing for the shore.  Krug and the Spanish sailors try to kill him by shooting at him, which forces Rowan to dive into the sea. 

Rowan makes it to shore.  Men are already looking for him and so he stands in a doorwell.  A woman opens the door.  She works here at the tavern.  She tells him to come-in.  Rowan comes in alright.  They sit down at a table in a quiet area of the tavern.  The woman sits in his lap and asks him to kiss her.  Before Rowan can do anything a monkey jumps up on his shoulder.  The owner, an American, comes over and asks Rowan for a drink.  The woman tells the man off, because he's ruining her game.  That brings the manager over, but Rowan says go ahead and give the man a drink because he'll pay for it. 

The Spanish patrol comes into the tavern.  Rowan has the woman sit in his lap and he takes off his money belt and places it underneath her long flowing dress.  The owner of the monkey sees this. A Spaniard comes over to Rowan, who says he's a Canadian.  The Spaniard asks for his passport and Rowan gives it too him.  The guy is satisfied and so goes on to the next suspect.  The owner of the monkey, Sgt. Dory, sends the monkey over to retrieve the money belt from underneath the woman's dress.  The monkey gets it, but then he refuses to bring it over to Dory.  So Dory bribes the monkey with a banana and he gets the money belt.  Rowan suddenly realizes that the money belt is gone and starts looking all over for it.  He sees that Dory has the belt.  Dory gives it up to Rowan blaming it all on the mischievous monkey. 

Krug is now in the tavern and he spots the American.  They capture Rowan, but then Dory starts smashing Spaniards over the head with beer bottles.  The other patrons join in and now the Spaniards have a regular riot on their hands.  Krug manages to pistol whip Rowan into unconsciousness, but again Dory comes to his rescue with the use of another beer bottle.  He grabs Rowan, throws the man over his shoulders and gets him out of the tavern. 

Dory goes through Rowan's items.  Rowan wakes up, gets a laundry iron and sticks it in Dory's back, while telling him to raise his hands, giving Rowan time to grab Dory's pistol.   Rowan says Dory's gotten himself into a real jam now and it's going to cost him his life.  Dory saw the letter to Garcia and says Garcia is an old friend of his and he can take Rowan to him.  But if he does, Dory wants to be paid for the job.  Rowan agrees.  Now Dory says he knows a friend, named Juan Madera, who knows where Garcia is, and he'll take Rowan to Madera. The men now quickly leave Dory's place headed out on horseback to find Maderos. 

As they ride through the heavy jungle, they see Spaniards burning the Maderos place down.  They watch as Madera is put in front of a firing squad and is executed.  After the Spanish leave, Senorita Raphaelita Maderos and a man ride up to the house.  She rushes over to her father, and finds him dead,.  She cries over her father's corpse.  The man with Lita says two men are hiding in the bushes.  Lita draws her revolver and tells the two men to come out.  They come out and she demands to know who are they.  Rowan gives his name and rank and country of origin.  He says they came to the Maderos home to see if her father could guide them to General Garcia.  He has a message from the President of the United States for Garcia. 

Lita believes Lt. Rowan and says she will take him to Garcia.  Her brother is one of the aides to the General.  Lita does have one reservation.  She tells Rowan that Dory sold the Spanish out to the Cubans and then sold the Cubans out to the Spaniards.  The man just cannot be trusted.  Rowan says he has to take Dory with them because he knows all about Rowan's plans. 

The group begins their journey to get to Garcia.  They travel northeast.  They stop in at a village where they are fed.  Furthermore, Don Pasqual Morales with six men are going to guide the Americano to Garcia.  They are about to leave, when the Spanish start firing at them.  Rowan and the others leave as fast as their horses can carry them. 

Rowan and Lita stop by a lake where the others will meet them, but they find themselves surrounded by Spanish soldiers.  So they have to take refuge in the waters of the lake.  Dr. Krug is with the Spanish.  They find Rowan and Lita's horses.  And they find fresh footsteps in the mud.  So they ride their horses to the other side of the lake.  At night the two alone set up a fire and they talk.  Rowan says he's glad he came to Cuba and Lita says she's also happy he came.  A British peddler of goods runs right into their campsite.  He explains to Rowan that he has been completely lost in the jungle for three weeks now.  So they let the man stay with them.

In the morning, they have breakfast.  Lita tells Rowan not to expect Dory.  She took care of that.  Lita says the man marked their trail so the Spaniards could follow them.  And yet, here comes Dory with about six horses.  And it turns out that it was Pasqual who was the spy working for the Spaniards.  Dory says he shot five of the men when they tried to kill him. 

The Spanish return and start firing on the group.  The group jumps on the horses and take off, but a soldier shoots Lita off her horse.  Now with the peddler left behind, the trio have to seek shelter in the swamp.  At camp, Dory removes the bullet from Lita's leg. 

In the morning, Lita says that Rowan must go on and get to Garcia.  Rowan says no at first, but then he says yes.  He says Dory will stay here with her.  Now the two seem to be definitely in love.   He tells her that he loves her.  She feels the same.  They hug and kiss, but now Rowan has to leave.  Lita now tells Dory to follow Rowan, because he won't be able to get to Garcia without Dory's help.  So Dory goes after Rowan.

Rowan comes to a place filled with crocodiles.  He is about to try to cross when Dory stops him.  Rowan is mad that Dory is here and not with Lita, but Dory tells him that he stayed with Lita, but she caught a terrible fever and died.  That really upsets Rowan. 

Rowan is so distraught that he says they are going back to the coast.  Dory grabs him and says he can't do that.  He tells Rowan that he deserted from the the U.S. Marines and he's been running now for some ten years.  Dory repeats that Rowan can't desert his country in its hour of need.  So Rowan decides to go forward with his mission.  They grab large sticks and beat the crocodiles out of their way, and they make it across. 

Spanish troops find Lita and grab her.  Meanwhile, Dory and Rowan reach Garcia's headquarters.  Dory has to part company now with Rowan, because Dory did some spying that hurt Garcia's forces.  Dory and Rowan shake hands and go their separate ways. 

Rowan is let in to see General Garcia.  It turns out that Garcia is not Garcia, but Doctor Krug, and now Rowan is captured.  Meanwhile, Dory is captured by the Cuban rebels. 

Dr. Krug promises not to hurt the prisoner of war, but he lied.  They put a rope around Rowan's head and tighten it gradually from the back of the head. 

Dory is taken to see Garcia.  Dory tells the general that he took an American officer right up to rebel headquarters.  The men laugh at this.  A soldier explains to Dory that those old headquarters are not in the hands of the Cuban rebels, but the Spanish soldiers.  Now Dory realizes the big mistake he has made that has put Lt. Rowan in grave danger.  And he tells Garcia's aide that that his sister, Raphaelita Maderos, was their guide.  The brother wants to throttle Dory for this.

Dory is about to be shout by a firing squad when the British peddler is brought in.  Dory gets the firing squad to wait because he says the man can vouch for him.  The peddler gets Dory out of real trouble.  Now they take Dory back to speak with Gen. Garcia.   

Krug still tortures Rowan, who still hasn't told where the message is.  The rebels are now on their way to save Lt. Rowan.  Dory rides with them.  There are hundreds of rebel soldiers all on horseback.  Other hundreds of rebels join up with Garica. 

Lita is now brought in to see Dr. Krug.  He asks her if she knows this man.  Lita says she never saw him before.  They sit Lita down in a chair across from Rowan.  They wake up Rowan with cold water thrown in his face.  He is surprised to see Lita alive.  The torture begins again.  Lita shouts out with a loud:  "No!"  She asks to speak to the man alone.  So Krug and his accomplice go outside.  Lita says that it's no use any more, so he may as well tell them where the message is and save himself.  At this moment, however, the rebel attack descends on the headquarters.  In the confusion of the fighting, Lita grabs a sword and cuts off the ropes around Rowan.  Once freed, Rowan falls over onto the floor. 

Outside the battle rages.  The rebels break the gates open and their troops rush in.  A lot of soldiers from both sides are being killed.  Rowan tells Lita to get his pistol out of the desk.  She gets it and holds it on Dr. Krug as he comes into the room.  He laughs at her because he knows the gun isn't loaded.  He now sees that the message is in the barrel of the pistol.  He moves toward Lita and Lita pulls the trigger a couple of times, but she just gets the click sounds.  Krug tells her that he took out all of the bullets from the pistol. 

Dory bursts into the headquarters, killing a few Spaniards along the way.  He then bursts through the door where Rowan and Lita are located and is shot from behind by Krug hiding behind the door.  Dory goes down, but not out.  As Krug tries to run out, Dory fires a bullet into Krug's back  and Krug goes down.  Krug is dead and Dory dies.  Rowan and Lita start to walk out of headquarters when they are stopped by a Spanish officer.  Then a shot rings out and the officer goes down.  It's Lita's brother who shot the officer. Brother and sister embrace. 

Garcia comes in and asks Rowan for the message.  Rowan gives the message in the envelope to Garcia saying it's from the President of the United States.  Garcia says this message will mean the liberation of the Cuban people, as Rowan and Lita hold onto each other tightly.     



Short and sweet movie with lots of action.  It takes place during the Spanish-American War set in Cuba.  The United States is sending soldiers to help the Cubans and they want someone to get a message to General Garcia, in charge of the Cuban rebels, about when and where they will land.  That way the Americans can march inland, while Garcia marches toward the coast and somewhere in the middle they will hook up.  American Lt. Rowan gets the job and it is definitely one tough job.  In fact, the phrase "it's like taking a message to Garcia" meant a person has accepted a job that is filled with numerous dangerous situations and deprivations.  All Rowan has is trouble on his journey.  Luckily he gets some help from the locals in Cuba and they take the lead in getting Rowan to Garcia.  Rowan secured secret information relative to existing military conditions in Cuba that had an important bearing on the quick ending of the struggle there.  Rowan received a Distinguished Service Cross and the congratulations of President McKinley.  Wallace Beery (as Sergeant Dory) was very good. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 




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