Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 1974.
Directed by Sam Peckinpah.
Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández, and Kris Kristofferson.
A bartender and his girlfriend go on a road trip through Mexico to collect the bounty on the head of a dead man accused of fathering the grandchild of a town authoritarian.
According to the director this was the only film he ever made that turned out the way he wanted it to with no interference from outside influences, and anybody accustomed to the works of Sam Peckinpah will immediately recognise it as one of the filmmaker’s most distinctive movies, albeit one that marked the end of his golden period before his demons really took hold and his output started to suffer.
When the daughter of powerful Mexican El Jefe (translated as ‘The Boss’) confesses that the father of her unborn child is one Alfredo Garcia, her father offers $1,000,000 to the man who brings Garcia’s head back to his town. Two bounty hunters named Quill (Gig Young – Game of Death) and Sappensly (Robert Webber – The Dirty Dozen) set about tracking Garcia down and end up in a Mexican brothel where they engage with the seemingly all-knowing piano player Bennie (Warren Oates – The Wild Bunch). Of course, Bennie plays dumb about Garcia at first but once he digs a little and finds out from his on/off girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega – The Black Widow) that Garcia was killed in a road traffic accident the week before he decides to go and see Quill, Sappensly and their boss Max (Helmut Dantine – War and Peace) in order to make a deal for $10,000 and escape his desperate lifestyle.
Hitting the road with Elita, Bennie travels across Mexico to go to Garcia’s grave in order to dig up the corpse and retrieve the head but along the way the couple meet all sorts of unsavoury characters from the Mexican underground and when they reach their destination the mourners gathered around the grave aren’t best pleased, but Bennie has a job to do and his fortune rests on getting that head back to the hitmen.
Despite not performing commercially at the box office when it first came out and not being well- received amongst the critics of the day, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has attracted a huge cult following over the last 40-odd years and is the type of movie that perfectly fits within the Arrow Video library of titles. Much like with Lady Snowblood and its influence on Kill Bill, this is a movie that Quentin Tarantino has obviously seen more times than is probably healthy and it is easy to see how the likes of Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Rob Zombie have taken this movie to their black hearts and wringed out the stylistic touches that scream Peckinpah, such as the slow-motion kill scenes and scumbag characters that we end up liking to a certain degree.
And Warren Oates absolutely owns this movie as Bennie, initially the kind of bartender that would know everybody and everything that went on in the local vicinity and then once the offer is made for Alfredo Garcia’s head he becomes fixated on making a load of cash and ditching the unfulfilling life he has made for himself. The masterstroke in the plot is not having Alfredo Garcia as a living, breathing character but rather as a symbol for Bennie’s greed and ambition, no better encapsulated than when Bennie has Garcia’s head wrapped up in a sack and swarming with flies but yet he talks to it and protects it like Garcia was his best friend and the two were on a road trip together. The journey to get the head also gives Bennie the opportunity to propose to Elita in a scene that wasn’t scripted to contain the marriage proposal but the actors’ adlibbed, staying in the moment and adding to the authenticity of their characters. After that the two become the victims of a pair of rapist bikers and had the previous scene not played out how it did then what happens may not have had the depth or impact that it does.
And by the time the film gets to its climax then you could say that Bennie has been thoroughly deserving of the attention we’ve given him over the previous two hours. Bennie is a driven man; driven by money, driven by love and, in the end, driven by revenge, and Peckinpah is not afraid to show you the whole gamut of emotions that one man will go through if he is driven by such forces. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is very much the purest Sam Peckinpah movie and one that seems the most metaphorical when you look at Bennie and Peckinpah as men determined to finish what they started regardless of the cost.
Presented in a fully-loaded 2-disc set, disc one features the movie in a stunning 4K restoration that shows up every bit of dirt and grit that Warren Oates gets thrown at him, along with a brand new commentary by author Stephen Prince plus previously available commentaries by Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. You also get the 1993 feature-length documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, which finally sees its debut UK release and features interviews with the likes of James Coburn, Ali MacGraw, Kris Kristofferson, Monte Hellman plus many others, and an audio recording of The John Player Lecture where Sam Peckinpah addressed a live audience. As if that wasn’t enough the second disc contains the extended director’s cut of Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron which features over 10 hours of previously unseen interview footage, so there is something for everyone from hardcore Sam Peckinpah fans who simply must have everything connected to the man to newbies looking to catch up and get the full flavour of this unique filmmaker. It seems as good a place to start as any…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★