Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
September 18, 2005
Sam Peckinpah spent his career fighting against the Hollywood studio system to make his own distinctive brand of films. Out of all the movies he made only on one was he given final cut privileges—Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), the epitome of a grungy nihilism that was in vogue with many American filmmakers during the ‘70s. Peckinpah had even led the charge in 1969 with the explosive deconstruction of the western with The Wild Bunch.
A calm, idyllic setting is quickly shattered when a pregnant young Mexican girl is tortured by her land baron father until she reveals the name of the man responsible: Alfredo Garcia. Her father decrees that anyone who brings him the head of Garcia will receive a million dollars. Two rich businessmen (Young and Webber) search every town and small village for any signs of the man. One day, they happen by a small-town bar where they catch the eye of Benny (Oates), the bartender who likes the colour of their money.
Benny asks around and finds out that his girlfriend (Vega) once had Garcia as a customer when she was a prostitute. Benny strikes a deal with the businessmen. He has four days to bring back Garcia’s head or they will come after him. So, Benny and his girl go on the road with two thugs in a beat-up station wagon tailing them. They travel through some of the most dirt-poor parts of Mexico that you will not find in a tourist brochure any time soon. Benny becomes obsessed, not with the money but with Garcia and why his head is so valuable. He sees it as a ticket that will lead him to this answer.
Once they find Garcia’s body, their lives get a lot more bloody and violent as the film shifts gears into a balls-to-the-wall revenge picture. Benny’s descent into murder-fueled madness is something to see. He starts talking to Garcia’s severed head. He looks in the mirror and sees a completely different man looking back at him then who he was when this all began.
Peckinpah takes the time to show the relationship between Benny and his girl—the intimate familiarity. It is almost like they are out for a picnic and not looking for a dead man. They have their dream of one day getting married. It makes us care about what happens to them. It lays the groundwork for Benny’s transformation into hardened killer.
Warren Oates was one of the most underrated actors in the ‘70s. He left behind an impressive body of work, much of the best with Peckinpah. He looks the part, with his cheap, white suit, gaudy shirt and loud tie, complete with large sunglasses—based on Peckinpah’s actual attire at the time. Oates always looks disheveled and world-weary—a life of hard-living. He has a natural, tough guy presence that you just don’t see anymore. He has a cool, don’t-mess-with-me attitude. And no one can quite curse angrily as convincingly as Oates does. At one point, he tells two bikers (one played by Kris Kristofferson) who are about to rape his girlfriend, “You two guys are definitely on my shit list.” You don’t really like Benny but you grow to respect him and his obsessive desire for the truth.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a ferocious crime film that has been imitated (recently with Man on Fire) but never equaled. No amount of visual and stylistic flourishes can compare with Peckinpah’s sparse, no-nonsense approach.
There is an audio commentary by Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle with moderator Nick Redman. They declare the film to be Peckinpah’s most personal and one “he made no apologies for.” It was seen as his statement on authority and meddling studios that tried to ruin his cinematic vision time and time again. All three men are authors of Peckinpah books and speak quite knowledgeably about the director’s life, his career and thematic pre-occupations among many other things. This is an extremely informative track that more than makes up for the lack of any other extras, such as a retrospective documentary.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.