Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: August 7th, 1974 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Sam Peckinpah Actors: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernandez, Kris Kristofferson, Chano Urueta, Donny Fritts, Janine Maldonado




t starts with an undeniable sereneness that is suddenly shattered by the beckoning of a young pregnant woman by her stern father’s hired guns. The father is El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez), and he demands to know who impregnated his daughter; when she won’t tell him, he has her stripped in front of his court and her arms literally twisted – until the bones finally snap. When it’s determined that Alfredo Garcia was responsible for the pregnancy, a million-dollar reward is offered for the rapscallion’s decapitated head.

The countryside and the cities are scoured – perhaps the whole of Mexico – in search of the elusive, 30-year-old Garcia. Sappensly (Robert Webber) and Johnny Quill (Gig Young) – cynically using the alias Fred C. Dobbs – are the top two henchmen on his trail, and they’re unafraid to dispense with anyone in their way. Meanwhile, dive bar piano player Bennie (Warren Oates), who never seems to remove his deep black sunglasses (even when sleeping), just so happens to know a friend of a friend who might be able to help him locate Garcia, provided that his cut of the reward money increases to $10,000. Accompanied by his prostitute girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega), who previously spent three nights with their target, Bennie sets off in pursuit of Alfredo’s whereabouts … or his remains.

Even for a film from the ’70s, there’s an unexpected amount of violence against women. But considering that this film is helmed by Sam Peckinpah (some years after “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs”), it’s not completely shocking. Plus, it’s in league with the general, visual ugliness of the film – from the characters to the locations to the actions. There are no good guys and no righteous conduct; merely varying shades of villains, and certain happenings that are less repulsive than others. And the disagreeable Bennie is all the audience has as a protagonist. With its strange setup and vengeful premise, it’s initially difficult to care about any of the characters or their ambitions. Even when Bennie and Elita recline under a tree by the side of a road, it’s supplemented by a bottle of vodka, arguments, and bitter reflections on failed dreams; and background imagery, like a fountain of water, is covered with algae. And yet, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” is predominantly a love story, chronicling the tattered, uneven romance between displeasing personas trapped in an equally objectionable crusade for a bit of money from ruthless gangsters. But it’s the kind of dough that could afford them a fresh start.

In the most inexplicable of minor details, even Bennie’s sex scene with Elita is tarnished with grotesqueness, as it involves him waking up in agitation to pick parasites from his crotch. The duo’s odyssey through the desert is further plagued by unsightly behaviors and dark atrocities, particularly when two rugged, rapist bikers sneak up on the couple. And this scene in particular is riddled with the same controversial elements as “Straw Dogs,” evidenced by Elita’s reluctance to fight off her attacker, followed by a peculiar willingness to continue the deed when the first biker (Kris Kristofferson) curiously walks away from her mid-assault. And later, the two leads are buried alive in a shallow grave by unseen thugs.

Also anticipated from Peckinpah, however, is a welcome level of retribution, in the form of slow-motion destruction and bright red blood spurting from wounds and corpses that dance from the powerful impact of bullets. As the film progresses, the vehicles become more crumpled and broken, the clothing more soiled and drenched in blood, and the literal head of Alfredo Garcia more rotted and swarmed by flies. And in the end, the casualties are tremendous, the disintegration of sanity significant, and the satisfaction bizarrely high. As far as mean-spirited, dirty, vile, exploitive, gore-soaked, uncompromising revenge thrillers go, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” is one of the best.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10