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Warren Oates in 1974's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia."

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia March 29, 2019  


Sam Peckinpah



Warren Oates

Isela Vega

Robert Webber

Gig Young

Helmut Dantine

Emilio Fernández

Kris Kristofferson

Donnie Fritts









1 Hr., 52 Mins.


lfredo Garcia is the name of the man who has impregnated Teresa, the young daughter of a feared Mexican crime lord known as El Jefe. El Jefe is more or less excited about becoming a grandfather but isn’t quite so enamored of the thought of having Garcia as his son-in-law. To the criminal, Garcia’s having an affair with Teresa is the ultimate betrayal. El Jefe, weathering and increasingly tired, was preparing Garcia, who has

all but disappeared, to take over his business ventures. He isn’t simply angry; he wants someone to deliver Garcia to him like a take-out order. Specifically a part of him: his head, preferably cut clean off with something like a machete. The price? A million. “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia," he chillingly intones.


There are many people who’d like to both keep the money and get on El Jefe’s good side. One person is more fervent than the rest of the stragglers, though, and he's a hoary ex-U.S. Army officer named Bennie (Warren Oates). His chances of tracking Garcia down seem pretty good. He’s a piano player at a brothel Garcia frequented a lot before apparently skipping town; soon after Bennie finds out about the bounty, he also discovers that his on-off girlfriend, a sultry maid named Elita (Isela Vega), had been having an affair with Garcia during the time off on the down low. Two signs that you should be looking for a missing head’s owner if there ever were.


Then, because sometimes things really do seem too good to be true, Bennie learns that Garcia is, in fact, dead. Thinking what the hell, Bennie cuts a deal with one of El Jefe’s associates (Helmut Dentine) and hits the road, Elita in tow. (She isn’t immediately informed that the reason for the road trip is to pilfer her ex-lover’s skull.) The trip proves disastrous; so does the attempt to get the payout.


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is a desperate film about desperate people. It was also made during a desperate period in its co-writer and director’s life. When pre-production began in Mexico City in 1973, Sam Peckinpah had hit something of a personal and professional low. His previous movie, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), was a critical and commercial fiasco; its chaotic making, plagued by a sundry of difficulties, including Peckinpah’s mercurial, booze-supported behavior, led his studio, MGM, to dub him difficult. It wasn’t so much that Peckinpah had to prove himself worthy with Head as it was that he was now more than ever making a movie in the most despairing of circumstances: with a low budget, with a reputation that he was impossible to depend on, and under the stress of paranoia and alcoholism.


The film has been called a self-portrait by some; like Peckinpah, the protagonist is oft-sozzled and met with skeptical eyes but believes that he has something going for him. For Peckinpah it’s a movie he believes in; for Bennie it’s a lucrative mission and a woman he thinks he can reconnect with. Neither man knows that their fate, ultimately, is a tragic one.


Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is usually either lauded or criticized for its lopsidedness; it’s as much a deconstruction as the macho Western action movie as it is a gently absurdist tragicomedy. It bears many a trademark of a typical Peckinpah film — the most noticeable one being its use of straightforward, aromantically depicted violence — but it’s not every day, especially in a Peckinpah feature, that you’re seeing a hero chatting away with a decapitated head while driving a dilapidated sedan.


I happened to like the crookedness. The movie doesn’t so much move forward sensically as it does pinball harshly from scenario to scenario, building and building in its torment. But what I like the most about it — which maybe also uncovers a certain morbidity on my part — is its profound sadness. We know that there is nary a character here who’s going to make it to the end, but all are partial to at the very least trying to have a say in how they end up. I’ve never gotten to a place in my life where I’ve thought that delivering a dead man’s head to a drug lord for some cash would solve all my woes. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia lets us understand what that must feel like. That desperate feeling, improbably, sticks around. A-

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