Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Martin Baum
Screenplay by Sam Peckinpah and Gordon T. Dawson
Story by Sam Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski
Music by Jerry Fielding
Cinematography by Alex Phillips, Jr.
Edited by Garth Craven/Robbe Roberts/Sergio Ortega/Dennis E. Dolan
A young pregnant girl is ushered into the cavernous den of her father, a powerful Mexican industrialist/crime lord. The room is filled with family, friends and a doctor stands nearby. The industrialist has only one question for his pregnant daughter: “Who is the father?” She refuses to identify him. Three times he asks and three times she refuses. He motions to two of his men. One holds the girl down while the other, with a casual ruthlessness, breaks her arm. The girl collapses to the floor, sobbing while her mother rushes to her side, along with the other women in the family and the doctor. The doctor whispers to the girl and she hands over a locket with the picture of a man inside. It’s given to her father who recognizes the man and issues a simple order to his army of hired guns and assassins: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.
I related the above scene because I know that many readers of my reviews are women (God Bless ‘em, every one) and so might be sensitive to such a scene of brutality involving a girl who looks to be around 16 years old. Be advised that this scene happens in the first five minutes of the movie and Sam Peckinpah is just getting warmed up. If you think the first five minutes of BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are horrifyingly sadistic and savagely brutal then you must not know your Peckinpah. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come during this movie. If you’re a sensitive soul as you read further you may just decide that this movie isn’t your bag and decide you don’t want to see it. Well, that’s why I write reviews for you, my friends.
The mercenaries and hired guns spread out across Mexico, hunting for Alfredo Garcia. The father has placed a million dollar price on the head. Just the head, mind you. But it’s got to be intact and plainly identifiable as Alfredo Garcia. Two American bounty hunters, Quill (Gig Young) and Sappensly (Robert Webber) wind up in a dingy fifth rate bar/whorehouse where they meet piano player Bennie (Warren Oates) who is sick to death of playing “Gunatanamera” for half-drunk tourists looking for ‘local color’. Bennie soon strikes a deal with the two men. He thinks he can find Alfredo Garcia for $10,000. Quill and Sappensly agree. With the condition that if Bennie doesn’t produce results in four days, there will be no hard feelings when they kill Bennie. Call it a breach of contract clause.
Bennie tracks down the beautiful Elita (Isela Vega) a hooker he knows has been sleeping on and off with Garcia. She’s also been sleeping with Bennie more off than on lately and he thinks it has something to do with Garcia. Turns out that Alfredo Garcia is dead and Elita knows where he’s buried. Bennie and Elita sneak out of town to go dig up the body so Bennie can get the head. But it’s not that easy. Bennie finds the body and takes the head but he has to fight for it in a truly grisly battle to the death where Elita is killed. Bennie puts the head in a burlap sack and as the movie goes on he forms a weird sort of bond with the head. He calls it “Al” and speaks as though it can hear him. Bennie starts to see that he and “Al” have a lot in common as he defends the head against all who try and take it from him. And Bennie decides to take “Al” directly to the man who asked for the head. It’s a confrontation that will end in a horrendously bloody shootout fueled by booze, grief, hatred and revenge.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is by no means a fun date movie. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be depressed after watching it. Unless you’re like me and actually enjoy this kind of take-no-prisoners storytelling. It’s not a pretty movie to watch. You can almost taste the sweat and dirt on the characters. It’s an extremely violent movie, even by today’s standards. But this is a Sam Peckinpah movie and one of Peckinpah’s major strengths as a director and as a storyteller was that he knew how to show violence. And I mean real violence. After a fight or shootout in a Sam Peckinpah movie there’s no high-fiving or throwing off glib wisecracks. The survivors are exhausted, traumatized and oftentimes surprised to find themselves still alive. Peckinpah directed “The Wild Bunch” which has what I think is the best shootout ever filmed and the movie’s graphic violence is legendary. In fact, the movie was reissued in 1993 with an NC-17 rating because of its violence. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA isn’t quite in that category but its close.
The movie is worth seeing just for the performance of Warren Oates alone. A major character actor, Mr. Oates had few opportunities to star in a movie and after seeing this one, I wish he had. As Bennie he goes through an amazing range of emotions and situations, from wanna-be tough guy, to drunken slob, to tender lover and finally, grim avenger. It’s an Oscar worthy performance and supposedly, Mr. Oates adopted a lot of the personal mannerisms of Sam Peckinpah himself to use as Bennie. The sunglasses he wears throughout the movie were a pair he stole from Peckinpah.
Isela Vega is remarkable as Elita. She’s simply fascinating to look at and has a mature sexuality I find irresistible. This isn’t some anorexic pop tart trying to play a woman. This is most certainly a woman in body and soul and the scenes between Vega and Oates are amazing to watch in their raw frankness. They have a scene where they wake up the next day after having sex and the scene is amazingly natural in that they act as if the camera isn’t there. You know what I’m talking about. They do the things that people do after waking up from a night of boozy sex that might make you squirm uncomfortably if you’ve ever been there.
Gig Young and Robert Webber almost seem to be winking at the camera sometimes as they play their bounty hunter characters. They’re obviously having fun. There’s a great scene where they first meet Bennie and one of the bar’s whores tries to come onto Webber’s character. Webber cold cocks her without blinking an eye and the bar empties out in 4.1 seconds, with the whore’s girlfriends picking her up and carrying her out. I wouldn’t even spoil it for you by relating Bennie’s comment here. But you may find yourself laughing out loud and then wondering just why you laughed. And there’s a great bit where Bennie asks the Gig Young character what his name his. Young smirks as he answers; “Fred C. Dobbs”. Which shows me that the character Young plays was well aware of the parallel between the situation they were in and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” And keep your eye out for a young Kris Kristofferson as a biker rapist.
So should you see BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA? I would say yes for a number of reasons: Sam Peckinpah was one of the greatest director/storytellers we’re ever gonna see and this movie is his dark, twisted masterpiece. It is so uncompromising in its vision that I honestly think it couldn’t be made today. The performance of Warren Oates is masterful. There are scenes of unrelenting psychosis as he drives toward his rendezvous with Hell, talking to the head of Alfredo Garcia that may make you think Mr. Oates is actually drinking real tequila from that bottle he keeps next to the head. You can see where notable film directors Quentin Tarentino and John Woo got a lot of their influences in this movie. But it’s a movie that shouldn’t be seen unless you’re willing to go where it’ll take you. There’s a part in the movie when Elita allows herself to be taken away to be raped and she says to Bennie; “I’ve been down this road before and you don’t know the way” I kinda get the impression that Sam Peckinpah thought the same way about directing BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.