I’ve talked about some of Sam Peckinapah’s work before with my reviews of The Wild Bunch (1968) and Straw Dogs (1971), both of which I held in very high regard. In 1974, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was released to very bad critical reviews, despite Peckinpah saying it was his only movie that came out exactly as he had envisioned it. Over time, however, this film has gained a cult status and is received much better than it was when it was first released. Watching this movie, I really felt like this was “Bloody” Sam’s most personal work, and despite feeling a little mixed while I was viewing it, I have come to respect it much more after giving it some thought.
After the daughter of Mexican crime boss El Jefe (Emilio Fernández) admits to being pregnant, a hit is placed on the man responsible, Alfredo Garcia, with El Jefe demanding his head. After a two month search, two hit men (Robert Webber and Gig Young) find themselves in Mexico City where they enlist the service of a bar manager named Bennie (Warren Oates). The two hit men offer Bennie $10,000 to track down Garcia and bring them his head as proof of his death. When Bennie’s girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega), a prostitute at a seedy bordello, tells Bennie that Garcia is already dead, Bennie and Elita begin a road trip to his grave to simply retrieve his head for that huge sum of cash. Unfortunately for Bennie and Elita, this simple job is turned into a nightmare of mayhem and mass murder.
What’s strange about this movie is that it’s advertised and categorized as an action movie, and I can’t say that’s very accurate. There isn’t a whole lot of violence in this movie, but when there is it’s really intense. There’s Peckinpah’s traditional use of slow motion to really accentuate the carnage that is happening onscreen to both the perpetrators and the unfortunate people who aren’t even involved. That’s all well and good, and definitely provides a lot of bloody fun entertainment, but the real interesting stuff happens between Oates’ and Vega’s characters and also the moral journey that Bennie goes through over the course of the movie. Some of the best scenes are of Bennie trying to explain to himself why all of this is actually worth it and justifiable.
The setting of this movie is just as important as any character, and whether that was intentional or not, it strengthens the movie as a whole. We spend a lot of time driving through the Mexican country or through the desert into all sorts of towns. One town might be bustling with activity while the other may be almost desolate. The locations are truly a character all their own. Speaking of characters, props has to be given to Warren Oates for supporting this movie on his outstanding performance. Basing his characters voice and movements off Sam Peckinpah himself, Oates has created one of the most memorable and sympathetic antiheroes to come out of film history.
You really have to go into this movie without expecting it to be anything like Straw Dogs or The Wild Bunch. It is significantly tamer than The Wild Bunch and doesn’t offer as much suspense as Straw Dogs. However, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia offers really intriguing personal drama and moral questions which the other two aforementioned movies only hint at. Instead, these themes are the show case to this film and it would’ve been a much more boring and empty film if they weren’t there to make you think.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia may not be the best of Sam Peckinpah’s career, but it definitely is the most personal. Mixing brutal action with sincere and heartfelt drama, this film is one to really examine and think about. There is nothing vapid or unnecessary about this movie, and even though I went into it expecting and wanting a crazy action film from the 1970s, I was pleased to see a much more intelligent and honest piece of work amongst the mayhem that is thrown in.