A Message to Garcia
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During the Spanish/American war, an American officer tries to deliver a message of cooperation from President McKinley to revolutionary Cuban General Garcia. Shown in 4:3 full frame presentation.
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John Boles plays the man entrusted with the message, and he is helped along the way by Barbara Stanwyck and Wallace Beery, all the while being pursued by the evil Dr. Krug played by Alan Hale Sr.
John Boles (1895-1969) is little known today, but he was popular in the silent and early talkie period, perhaps best known for his role as Mae Clarke's friend (Victor Moritz) in "Frankenstein" (1931) and as Barbara Stanwyck's husband in "Stella Dallas" (1937).
Wallace Beery (1885-1949) was one of the biggest villains in the silent era. His work in 1930 ("Big House", "Min and Bill", "Billy the Kid") followed by the best actor award in 1931 for "The Champ" elevated Beery to the A list where he remained and made such memorable films as "Treasure Island" (1934), "Viva Villa" (1934), and "China Seas" (1935). Here he is at the peak of his popularity and gives his usual performance.
Sultry Barbara Stanwyck (1907-90) made more than 80 films and was nominated 4 times for an Oscar ("Stella Dallas", "Ball of Fire", "Double Indemnity", "Sorry Wrong Number"). She won 3 Emmys ("The Barbara Stanwyck Show", "Big Valley"). AFI lists her as # 11 among the "Top 100 Greatest Screen Legends". She plays a senorita sans accent, with bobbed hair and Hollywood make-up, and appears to sleep walk through the film.
Alan Hale Sr. (1892-1950) is best known as the frequent sidekick to Errol Flynn in films such as "Robin Hood" (1938), "Dodge City" (1939), "Virginia City" (1940), "The Sea Hawk" (1940), "Santa fe Trail" (1940), and "Gentleman Jim" (1942). Here he takes an unusual turn as a villain and does a pretty good job.
Director George Marshall (1891-1975) keeps the action moving. He made more than 150 films between 1916 and 1969 including "Destry Rides Again" (1939), "The Blue Dahlia" (1946), "Houdini" (1953), "The Sad Sack" (1957) and "How The West Was Won" (1962).
In 1936 Jean Harlow had 3 films in the top 20 - "Libeled Lady" ( Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy), "Wife vs. Secretary" (Gable and Loy), and "Suzy" (Cary Grant). The other big money winners were "San Francisco" (Gable), "The Great Ziegfeld" (Powell and Loy), "Modern Times" (Chaplin), and "Charge of the Light Brigade" (Flynn and de Havilland). The big Oscar winner was "The Great Ziegfeld" (Picture, Best Actress). Other notable films from that year were "The Petrified Forest" (Bogart), "Romeo and Juliette" (Shearer and Howard), "Dodsworth" (Walter Huston) and Fritz Lang's "Fury".
The film has poor production values and not much in the way of a musical score. The photography is typical for the times.
Films about the Spanish American War are few, and most of them focus on Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders - the 1927 silent film "The Rough Riders", Hopalong Cassidy's "Texas Trail" (1937), and the excellent TV mini-series "Rough Riders" (1997). There is a small snippet about the war in "Citizen Kane" (1941), "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1952), and "Posse" (1993). From an historical POV, the PBS show "Crucible of Empire" (1999) is probably the best source.
Bottom line - not a bad film, but not much to recommend it either.
If the DVD transfer had been better the film would have been much more enjoyable. That said, it is always a treat to watch Stanwyck, even when she is miscast. She always brings things up to her level which is first class. Stanwyck's work has always been first class, even when applied to material that is not. This is not first class material. It's o.k. ....merely o.k.