Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

          Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia represents director Sam Peckinpah’s worldview at its most unforgiving—instead of presenting violence alongside his usual themes of honor and masculine identity, Peckinpah uses this movie to present violence as its own unique force of nature, an insidious virus that destroys everyone it touches. Even the very texture of the film seethes with hatred and malice, because Peckinpah eschews the macho lyricism of his other work for a style as down-and-dirty as that of any low-budget exploitation film. Watching the picture, viewers can smell the sweat on every character’s skin, just like the rank odor of death permeates the grisly storyline.
          Set in Mexico, the movie begins with a crime lord (Emilio Fernandez) torturing his own daughter to find out who impregnated hear. Learning that the culprit is the crime lord’s protégé, Alfredo Garcia, the villain issues the horrific command featured in the movie’s title. Eager for the reward the crime lord is offering, two white mercenaries (played by Robert Webber and Gig Young) begin searching for Garcia, eventually landing in a seedy bar where retired U.S. Army vet Bennie (Warren Oates) works as a manager and piano player. Bennie learns about the bounty on Garcia and confronts his lady, Elita (Isela Vega), a prostitute who’s been two-timing Bennie by sleeping with the elusive Garcia. Elita says Garcia recently died in a car wreck. His craven lust for money and revenge surging, Bennie invites Elita for a road trip without explaining that he plans to exhume Garcia’s body, remove the head, and collect the crime lord’s bounty.
          This being a Peckinpah film, things get complicated and ugly once Bennie embarks on his mission—a miserable cycle of betrayal, murder, rape, and theft leads Bennie inexorably toward a bloody standoff with the crime lord, whom the twisted Bennie identifies as the source of his misery.
          Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is Peckipah unleashed, a vicious story without heroes or victims, just schemers who pay horrible costs for crossing other schemers. Since Peckinpah was a self-destructive man who battled with nearly everyone in his life, from close friends to the many enemies he made, it’s impossible not to see the parallels between the subject matter of this relentless movie and Peckinpah’s bleak outlook on his own doomed life. And just as the filmmaker made a mess of his offscreen existence, he keeps Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia loose, constructing a storyline with co-writer Gordon Dawson that meanders from one low-down vignette to the next; the implied message is that no matter how bad life gets, it can always get worse.
          Delivering this message with perfect clarity is Peckinpah favorite Oates, giving the best performance of his singular career. Dishonest, fidgety, volatile and yet somehow weirdly human, Oates’ Bennie is an unforgettable figure—his slovenly pursuit of crazed “justice” dramatizes what happens when a man’s better angels get strangled by greed, jealously, and other petty impulses. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a chaotic movie marred by rampant misogyny, script irregularities, and technical imperfections—but in a strange way, these flaws amplify the movie’s vision of a world without moral order.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: RIGHT ON


Tommy Ross said...

My 2nd favorite Peckinpah next to Pat Garrett! Warren Oates is perfect and by the way those are Peckinpahs sunglasses he wears throughout most the film. At this point nobody wanted to green light one of his films and he was for all extensive purposes exiled to Mexico to make this, what landed up being a true masterpiece.

geralmar said...

Not to be confused with "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis" (1988).