Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Jun 12, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Sam Peckinpah loved to get his hands dirty. His films dig down into the grime of humanity, smearing blood, sweat, and filth all over his characters and the screen they inhabit. And as he does this, he implicates the audience as being culpable in the often cruel depictions happening in front of them. The audience bears witness, helpless and appalled, to whatever demons his protagonists fruitlessly attempt to exorcise.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is possibly his most overt example of pushing a character into the deep end of misery and never letting up. At least with David and Amy Sumner in Straw Dogs, it’s a gradual decline. Benny is thrust so quickly into his journey that his exhilaration at the mere thought of escape from his life’s plot is enough to cloud his judgment and ignore the warning signs that ruin is the only path he’s set to follow.

The film opens with a young pregnant woman being taken to a church in Mexico. Her wealthy father – clearly a man with criminal ties to the United States – repeatedly asks her who the father is. She refuses. He has his men strip her of her clothes in an attempt to also strip away her dignity. She stands tall. They break her arm and, as consequence, her resolve. “Alfredo Garcia,” she screams. The father offers a cash reward for anyone who brings him Garcia’s head.

Benny (Warren Oates) is a piano player at a seedy Mexican bar, one of the last places suited hoods look for Garcia. They find Benny, who seems willing to play their game for a price, especially when he finds out Garcia has recently spent time with Elita (Isela Vega), Benny’s supposed girlfriend. He’s offered cash – a pittance compared to the actual offer – and sets off to find Garcia, except for one problem…he’s already dead. He convinces Elita to join him to find the body, chop off the head, and collect the ransom, partially with a promise of marriage. And so he dooms her as well.

That shouldn’t count as a spoiler. From the opening scene, it’s clear that no one is coming away from this clean. And while the tension slowly ratchets, it’s hardly a pleasant experience. It could even be described as exploitation, especially when it comes to the treatment of women. When Benny is recruited, the two suits sit with him at the piano. Girls from the bar, presumably prostitutes, sidle next to them. One casually slides her hand over one of the man’s pants. He decks her, knocking her unconscious without paying her any mind. In another scene, when Benny meets with his criminal benefactors, one of them is receiving a foot massage from a woman. When she doesn’t stop, he smacks her with a rolled up magazine without any warning. Even Elita undergoes the ordeal of being sexually assaulted by a biker (Kris Kristofferson!) while she and Benny are on the road. (Benny does intervene.)

Women in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia are purely depicted as subservient objects, or at least that’s how the men in the film see them. It is repulsive, but then again it’s supposed to be. Peckinpah has essentially slathered grime on the lens of the camera from the opening frame, and it’s a descent into Hell kind of story. No one is exactly treated well. Peckinpah also lingers on the pain being inflicted long enough to inflict a kind of shame on the viewer in case any titillation is achieved. This kind of storytelling will not work for everyone. While it’s meant to be repulsive and off-putting, it will understandably be too much or come off as senseless and abusive beyond the point of the story being told. For fans of Peckinpah and sleazy crime cinema in general, the discomfort is part of the appeal. Depiction, after all, is not endorsement. That said, it’s a slippery slope considering the historically demeaning way women have been treated in cinema – it’s a fine line between commenting on and reveling in misery. This film can go both ways.

But then it all comes back to Benny. He makes a conscious choice to see it through to the end, though once he initially signs on he’s told that if his information is wrong it’s ‘dead wrong.’ So, it’s implied that by even thinking about taking part he’s sealed his fate. The best visual cue for his spiral is his attire. For a good portion of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Benny is clad in a white suit. Perfect. Every step kicks up dust, adding another layer to the grime that is slowly consuming him. Of course, he eventually does come into possession of the fated head in a canvas bag covered in flies. Be careful what you wish for. Benny has a somewhat redemptive arc, but it comes too late to fix the mess he’s fallen into. No one comes out clean. Sometimes losers always lose.

The Kino Lorber disc is pretty bare, with only a commentary track from film historians and an original theatrical trailer. Merely remastering a film is hardly its own special feature. And for those who don’t speak Spanish – as the film is set in Mexico where the dialog goes back and forth – the subtitles have to be turned on manually from the main menu. The subtitles will then appear throughout, whether it’s English or Spanish being spoken. And sometimes it’s incorrect.

If the film alone is enough to pique your interest – which, it usually should be – then it’s worth the investment. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a challenging, bleak, and often excessive film. It will come across as too vile for some, while others will appreciate it as a daring glimpse into the darkest recesses of human desperation and the folly that accompanies it.


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.