Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Peckinpah, Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young
The Premise: An American expatriate
living in Mexico thinks he can strike it rich when he learns there’s a
bounty on his girlfriend’s boyfriend’s head… and that the guy just
died in a car accident.
Is It Good:
It’s possible that this is
the sleaziest movie ever made. It opens with a tranquil scene of a young
pregnant girl dipping her feet in a river when she is called away by
her father. Her father, who looks like a Don from the 1800s, wants to
know who knocked her up. He wants to know so badly that he has his two
goons rip open her nightgown and then savagely break her arm. And that’s
the opening scene of the movie.
There are some who will say that Bring Me
The Head of Alfredo Garcia isn’t a Western, and those people
would all be wrong. In fact, Peckinpah plays with your understanding of
Westerns right off the bat – that opening scene could take place in the
Western territories in the 19th century, but it’s quickly followed by
all of the Don’s goons getting into 1970s cars and hopping planes. The
film expects you to be momentarily disoriented by this switcheroo.
a Western because it’s all about lawlessness and the search for
freedom; Warren Oates’ Bennie just wants to make enough money to slip
off into the territories and be left alone. The cars may be late model
(at the time) but the world and its moral are just as grim and ugly as
they were on the frontier.
Warren Oates is one of the all-time
great motion picture actors, and this could be his greatest performance.
He plays a guy who sleeps in his sunglasses, after all. Bennie is a
dissolute loser, but he’s also got some ability – he’s not winning
gunfights by sheer chance. There’s a wounded vulnerability that Oates
mines perfectly; he understands that for someone to be this rough they
must be pretty soft on the inside. The people who end up the most
wounded are the ones open to wounds in the first place.
great about Bennie, though, is the journey he goes on. All of the
nastiness surrounding him teaches him the value of the smallest amounts
of dignity, and allows him to understand the meaning of love. These
lessons come too late, but in the end he manages to stand up for
something other than the money at stake.
Is It Worth A Look:
You should probably own this.
It might be my favorite Peckinpah film, and I think it’s just a blast
to watch. Peckinpah’s seedy Mexico feels like autobiography, but so does Bennie’s quest. What I love in Alfredo Garcia is how nihilistic it begins and how weirdly optimistic it ends up (hear me out). The Don sends his assassins everywhere to find Alfredo Garcia and to return his head, all for the crime of knocking up the Don’s daughter. Bennie knows Al, and better than that, Bennie’s prostitute girlfriend fucks Al… or at least she did before he was killed in an accident. Suddenly the idea of hunting a man down gets totally flipped, as the whole film becomes about Bennie robbing Al’s grave and stealing his noggin so he can claim the reward cash. It’s the least heroic, least manly quest possible. But Peckinpah isn’t just wallowing in the nastiness here (well, not always) – by going so low, by seeing so many people get killed over the already-dead head of a lothario, Bennie has an awakening. He never had anything to live for – his big plan for the money was just to go somewhere new, and he’s not a young man anymore – but suddenly he has something to die for. And then at the end maybe he has something to live for again, before he gets gunned down. It’s the 70s.
Kris Kristofferson shows up as an Easy Rider-esque biker who tries to have his way with Bennie’s girl. In later interviews, Kristofferson would say that he thought Peckinpah softened the scene for him, and that it could have ruined the movie. I don’t know what film Kristofferson saw – the fact that Elita is at the very least okay with having sex with him, and at the very worst looks forward to it (shades of Susan George in Straw Dogs) really works contextually, especially in regards to what it means for Bennie. Alfredo Garcia contains one of the great scenes in cinema: waking up after a night with his girl, Bennie picks crabs out of his crotch and pops them with his fingers. Then he pours tequila on his crotch to get rid of the rest of them.
Tally So Far