Film Review

From Apathy to Vengeance: Sam Peckinpah’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Frank Mengarelli reviews Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Sam Peckinpah would have been ninety-six years old recently. For a guy whose legacy is nearly pushing 100, Peckinpah surely left his mark on cinema. He capitalized on telling the story of the forgotten man, or more specifically the man that time left behind. He often focused on the escapism to Mexico; the freedom of it. No laws, but more importantly it did not require the confinement and limitations of the society that lay just above of the border. More importantly, Peckinpah’s cinematic hallmark was nihilism wrapped in angst. 

With BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, it starts off so mean, so angry. A Mexican gangster has one of his thugs break the arm of his pregnant daughter so she’ll tell him who the father is. When she screams in agony that it is Alfredo Garcia, what ensues is a strange odyssey that is propelled forward with a brilliant Warren Oates as a drunk piano man who lives in Mexico and his street walking girlfriend (magnificently played by Isela Vega) who are seeking Alfredo Garcia for a $10,000 reward. Along their antiheroes journey, they encounter bikers, two gay hitmen, and a host of other surreal obstacles – all so Oates can “start over”. 

The overall character arc of Warren Oates’ Bennie is the traditional ronin narrative coupled with placing an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.  Of course Bennie is a rube, and Alfredo Garcia’s head is worth $1,000,000 and not just $10,000 – hence his revolving encounter with two presumably gay hitmen played by Robert Webber and Gig Young. The subtext of their relationship just accentuates the oddity that is the film.

Then along comes Kris Kristofferson, at the height of his musical star power, as a would-be rapist, who has his partner hold Oates at gunpoint, so he can take Vega off into the tall grass to rape her, all the while playing the part with a bashful vulnerability. The same sort of somber vulnerability that started the scene; Oates and Vega having a picnic, realizing that their plan to find Garcia’s head and run off with $10,000 is a noble, but ultimately futile plan. They both know the reality of their dead-end lives and share a beautiful moment together that is as bittersweet as tender where they silently acknowledge the reality of everything, together. Of course, Oates saves the day, shoots down Kristofferson and his partner, and he and Vega get back on the road to nowhere, seeking the head of Alfredo Garcia. 

  • BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA
  • 1974
  • dir. Sam Peckinpah
  • feat. Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Emilio Fernandez, and Kris Kristofferson.
  • ed. Arrow Video

The picture absolutely takes a tonal shift after Oates finds Alfredo’s grave, digs him up, and takes his head. As soon as that happens, the journey takes an absolute nose dive. Oates, who started out as this apathetic and fashionably tacky sap, then becomes a steamroller that is fueled by anger and sorrow. He has nothing left to lose, and lets go of any fear that weighed him down prior, he carries Alfredo Garcia’s head in a burlap sack filled with dry ice, and kills anything that stands in his way. 

What started as what Bennie thought was a fast money job, evolves into a kinship between Bennie and Alfredo’s head. From the start Bennie knew that Alfredo had a relationship with his girlfriend. Whether he was a paying customer or not is a moot point, because Vega feels an absolutely fondness for Alfredo Garcia, which causes Bennie’s jealousy to erode to feeling a deep connection to Alfredo Garcia. Before the carnage of the third act begins, all that Bennie has left is Al’s head, and he is damn sure going to find out why all these people died just for Al’s head. 

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA showcases the best of 70s film. It was headlined by an unconventional leading man, conveyed society’s angst of 70s America, while also embracing the previous generations passing into society’s memory. The film is hard and mean, much like life, it isn’t fair and sometimes a shit hand gets dealt, but at the same time is beautiful and Peckinpah is here to say, ain’t life grand? 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: