Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
1974, R, 112 min. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young, Robert Webber, Helmut Dantine, Kris Kristofferson, Emilio Fernandez.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Thu., Dec. 2, 1999
A moment of silence now for the late, great Warren Oates. Too little appreciated, he left an awesome body of work, and this deranged Peckinpah rant offers one of his finest turns. Released at a time when coy, self-serving, liberal sweetmeats such as The Long Goodbye, California Split, Save the Tiger, Carnal Knowledge, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were the critical rave, this shocking film did little business. Its atmosphere of paranoia and desperation prefigured Taxi Driver and its ilk. An ugly, vicious film about not very glamorous people engaged in ugly, vicious activities, it’s more black comedy than anything. The film begins in the main meeting room of a hacienda – is this a flashback or another Peckinpah anti-classic Western? The head of the family, looking at his very pregnant young daughter, demands of a room full of dangerous-looking men and sad, black-clad women, “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!” Seconds later, the gates of the hacienda fly open, and four-wheel-drive vehicles and jeeps come tearing out. Peckinpah makes it immediately clear that he is going to mess with the audience in this one. Always the mythmaker, he was at his happiest blowing those myths apart. A romantic interlude as Oates and Vega drive through Mexico is accentuated by a rape. Starring Oates as Benny, a not-very-bright hustler/loser, Bring Me ... deals with the world of the misfit in very real and very brutal terms. At times, it seems as though the film is an almost conscious response to the anti-hero personified by Bogart in Casablanca, in which the iconoclast is draped in mystery and romance with more than a hint of poetry. Oates’ character has none of that grace or romantic allure. He spends the latter part of the movie driving around Mexico talking to a severed head inside a canvas bag, but this isn’t a horror film ... well, it’s not a normal kind of horror film. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a profound existential adventure, twistedly comic and openly bitter, brought to life by those two maniacs: Peckinpah and Oates.