BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (director/writer: Sam Peckinpah; screenwriter: Gordon T. Dawson/story by Sam Peckinpah & Frank Kowalski ; cinematographer: Alex Phillips, Jr. ; editors: Dennis Dolan/Sergio Ortega/Robbe Roberts; music: Jerry Fielding; cast: Warren Oates (Bennie), Isela Vega (Elita), Robert Webber (Sappensly), Gig Young (Quill), Helmut Dantine (Max), Emilio Fernández (El Jefe), Kris Kristofferson (Biker), Donnie Fritts (John), Chano Urueta (Manchot); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Martin Baum; MGM Home Entertainment; 1974)
“Intense gruesome crime melodrama that’s set in modern Mexico.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Sam Peckinpah (“Junior Bonner”/”Straw Dogs”/”The Wild Bunch”) directs this intense gruesome crime melodrama about the perverse human condition, that’s set in modern Mexico and plays out as a study on death, sex, booze and violence. It’s based on a turgid story written by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski. It’s a cynical exercise in showing mankind to be either victimized as poor, greedy or cruel. The story is slight and predictable in Peckinpah terms, but an expressive performance from co-stars Warren Oates and Isela Vega keeps things churning.
When the single teenage daughter of the vain wealthy Mexican land baron and former general, El Jefe (Emilio Fernández), is pregnant, the angered macho patriarch puts up a million dollar bounty for the death of the gigolo father Alfredo Garcia and hires the American gang headed by the oily Sappensky and Quill (Robert Webber and Gig Young) to bring him proof that Alfredo is dead by bringing back his severed head. The hitmen in turn hire, for just chump change of a few thousand dollars, loser American bartender-piano player Bennie (Warren Oates), doing a gig in a dumpy Mexican City tourist bar and bordello. Bennie is shacking up with the bar’s free-spirit hottie Mexican guitar player prostitute Elita (Isela Vega) and views this opportunity as his ticket to riches. The deal is consummated after sad-sack Bennie claims the target is dead and buried in a small-town in Mexico. That is something he learns from Elita and her short fling with the stud. Even though she disapproves of his way to get money (probably thinking it’s not as kosher as doing business as a prostitute), joins him anyway in the long car ride to Alfredo’s hometown cemetery.
The gritty road trip is filled with sleazy characters, plenty of tequila drinking and violence. Two American biker rapists (Kris Kristofferson is the rapist) getting killed by Bennie’s handgun, at a roadside picnic; two tailing corpse stealing hoods are gunned down by the twisted anti-hero on the road, as Bennie sees them as trying to steal his meal ticket and therefore deserving to die; Alfredo’s relatives are machine-gunned to death by Sappensky and Quill as they try to recover the decapitated head of their loved one; then Bennie finishes off the hitmen and returns to collect his reward, but is heartbroken over the loss of Elita, his one chance at redemption who will no longer be with him. Bennie’s new confidante in his jalopy ride home becomes Alfredo’s head stuffed in a burlap bag placed on the passenger seat (Peckinpah goes Shakespeare with the head and does the same Hamlet talky bit he did with Yorick), which attracts flies until packed with ice. Bennie’s return home leads to a twisted and incomprehensible ending for all those not diehard Peckinpah fans, one that moves into deranged territory where violence becomes the only way to prove one’s manhood.
I can’t say I loved what Peckinpah was saying, but I admired the quirky way he filmed it.
REVIEWED ON 4/10/2013 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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