Tag Archives: sam peckinpah

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – Review

31 Mar

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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The Wild Bunch – Review

13 Feb

“Bloody” Sam is a nickname that I envy and Sam Peckinpah rightly deserves it. This controversial, but infinitely important American director is responsible for helping mold the film medium into what it is today and inspire famous film makers like Quentin Tarantino. A lot of Peckinpah’s work, even though he is long dead, can be seen in the technique of film makers now. Let’s look at what many call his masterpiece. The time period is around the Vietnam War and the Western genre is slowly dying. Peckinpah had the perfect way to close off the genre with his almost anti-Western (in the traditional sense), The Wild Bunch.

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In 1913, the wild West is beginning to be more modernized and civilized. For aging outlaw Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang, this is a sign for retirement. Before he can call it quits, Pike needs to find that last score that will guarantee his riches for the rest of his life. Along with his best friend Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) and the rest of the gang, Pike makes his way to Mexico where they encounter General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a sadistic general who has his claws in small villages. Pike is hired by Mapache to rob an American military train of its weapons cargo and in return will pay the gang $10,000. The robbery goes just fine, but Pike’s worries are just beginning which will end in an inevitable bloodbath.

If you think about the time that Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, it may seem kind of clear as to why he took such a violent approach. The year was 1969, and Bonnie and Clyde shocked audiences with its depiction of graphic violence, but what’s even more significant is that this was made during the heat of the Vietnam War. War violence was shown in the households of American families by the news media, and this made Peckinpah amongst other people feel very nihilistic. To show the desensitization to violence that Peckinpah feared was happening to Americans, he decided to make The Wild Bunch as violent and graphic as he could possibly make it. Unfortunately for him, audiences ate it up instead of being shocked by it.

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Another inspiration for “Bloody” Sam was to make The Wild Bunch sort of an anti-Western. Before this movie, Westerns were relatively bloodless and even had the outlaw characters portrayed as heroes. Just look at John Wayne’s character in Stagecoach. In this film, the characters are all flawed or downright awful. The outlaws aren’t meant to be heroes, nor are they meant to be villains. They are whoever you want them to be. As for the blood, there is plenty of it. Just enough to match the amount of bullets being fired. Here’s a fun fact. More blank rounds were fired for this movie than were actually fired during the Mexican Revolution. That says something, I’d say.

In my opinion, the set design is also an improvement over the average American Western. The dirt and the grime all have a more realistic feel to it, and not like it was done specifically for the movie. It all looks appropriate for where the character’s are. This is also a testament to what Same Peckinpah was trying to do. He wanted to create a realistic Western to end the genre of what he thought to be unrealistic representations of the old West. Now, I wasn’t alive then, but I can imagine that this movie may have come pretty close.

The Wild Bunch is said to be the last of the great Westerns, and in the movie, it shows the last of the wild life that outlaws lived. With ties to the Vietnam War and Peckinpah’s own views of what the genre should be, this is truly and American masterpiece. I may stir up some controversy with this, but forget John Ford and forget John Wayne. If you want an exciting and brutally violent Western that will really leave you speechless, look no further than The Wild Bunch.

Straw Dogs – Review

28 Nov

Sam Peckinpah is a name that goes along with controversy in the film world. In fact, one of his nicknames was “Bloody” Sam. Straw Dogs continued that streak of controversy, and even went on to be banned in the UK for 18 years! The reasons for this is Peckinpah’s unapologetic depictions of violence and rape, and his filming something so graphic at the time was pretty ballsy and I respect that. This has made the film somewhat of a keystone in modern film making, even if Peckinpah’s depiction of women can be somewhat… I don’t know… misogynistic?

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David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are trying to get away from the anti-war protests and anger that has engulfed the United States, so to get some peace and quiet they move to a small village in Cornwall, England. This being the village where Amy grew up, she starts to get harassed by an old boyfriend. The troubles don’t stop there as a group of drunken villagers begin tormenting them day in and day out, until one day David just can’t take it anymore. As the villagers begin attacking his house, David lets out a much more violent side and shows that he will kill, maim, and otherwise disfigure anybody who steps through his door.

The first time through this movie, it feels really slow and really boring. I will admittedly say that for a while, I wasn’t really feeling the movie at all. Then the climax came and the whole drama played out and I was sitting on my couch in a state of shock. First of all, in terms of suspense, I can’t believe how intense and violent this climax is, and in such a way that I felt like I was stuck in the scene. The lighting and sound is gritty and dark, and once David begins blasting Irish music, my blood really starts pumping. Another thing that this now infamous climax does though is make you appreciate the slow boil of this movie and the constant pushing that the villagers do to David.

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When I say slow, I mean slow. It seems, at times, that nothing is really happening in the story, but once the movie is one you realize that everything is connected and everything is important. This isn’t a very complicated movie when it comes to the story, but the tension is what really makes it. It seems like every line of dialogue is pushing the movie forward in some way. Plus the slow pace of the movie makes the climax that I just can’t stop talking about even better since we’ve been waiting and watching for an hour and some minutes.

We’ve all been pushed in some ways in our lives, whether it’s at work or home, it’s happened to us before. In this way, we can relate to David and stand by him in his acts of extreme violence. Peckinpah had it right there. In terms of the woman in the movie… that can be debated. In a way, her dynamic made the movie very interesting, up until the end when she was just annoying. Without giving too much of the plot away, Amy behaves in a way that people may find unrealistic and kind of sexist towards women. That’s really the only fault I have for this movie. Unfortunately, this fault could be a major turn off for some people, which is really disappointing considering how great this movie is.

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Straw Dogs is a violent and evil ride. Evil is a weird way to put it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that have been stigmatized so much that it’s considered a necessary evil in the film world. It did help push film into the more modern direction and was a good early film in one of my favorite decades of film. This may not be for the weak stomached not folks who turn away at the possibility of cringing, but it is a very important movie and I love it very much!