The Underrated: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

I should really rename this series “the forgotten about”. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and that’s because I haven’t really seen anything that I’d class as that underrated. However, while watching Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which is arguably the ultimate Sam Peckinpah movie, it occurred to me that the film receives nowhere near the love that it should do. Even if it is arguably to blame for some of Cokey McFrankensteinhead’s more wild excesses. I find it surprising that in this day and age of remakes, particularly of notorious films from the day, that this Grand Guignol of bloody tragedy and ultraviolence wouldn’t have flitted across some marketing whore’s desk. I mean, if you think about it, the supremely unpalatable Straw Dogs received a grotesquely inappropriate remake last year (which genius cast Kate Bosworth in the Susan George role? She’s got the sex appeal of a tapioca filled jockstrap) so it’s astonishing that arguably the definitive pulp movie somehow has remained untouched. 

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia had a somewhat troubled genesis. Conceived by Frank  Kowalski, the story of one man’s attempt to retrieve a corpse’s head was transformed by Pekinpah into something almost completely unpalatable for audiences at the time. Certainly unpalatable for most (Ebert excepted) critics. Filming in Mexico, the gun crazy wino tweaked the nose of Hollywood with increasingly insane pronouncements about American cinema, and thereby pissed off the unions who threatened to boycott the film. It went down as the film that Peckinpah thought he had the most control of; the film that represented his purest vision, and on that note, one can only say that he was one supremely fucked up dude.

Warren Oates plays Bennie. Bennie is a down on his luck American ex-soldier eking out a sorry living playing piano in a shitty bar in Mexico City. He’s approached by Sappensly (Robert Webber) and Quill (Gig Young), two homosexual hitmen working for El Jefe, a wealthy land owner who is somewhat upset that his daughter was impregnated by one Alfredo Garcia. Bennie happens to think he knows the location, and he confirms with his prostitute girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) that Garcia died in a drink driving accident. Bennie hatches the half-witted plan to cut the head off the corpse and return it to El Jefe for 10k. En route to Garcia’s grave Bennie and Elita are assaulted by two bikers (one of whom is played by Kris Kristofferson) who attempt to rape Elita compelling Bennie to open Pandora’s box and gun the pair of them down, thereby starting the spiral of violence that the film is set on. At Garcia’s grave, Elita is murdered and Bennie buried alive with her body, which causes his mind to, understandably, fracture. Bennie retrieves the head, has a few severely bizarre conversations with it and the violence escalates culminating in a, even for Peckinpah, astonishingly nihilistic and blood soaked ending.

Warren Oates has never been better than he is here as Bennie. His accelerating unravelling psyche is brilliantly portrayed, and the scene where he starts chatting to Alfredo is a superb piece of work. Vega, an actress that I’m not familiar with, is astonishingly good as Elita, and her performance is natural and incredibly warm. Incidentally, this is essential, because she supplies the emotional heart of the film- Elita loves Bennie unconditionally, and despite his greed bringing tragedy down on them, she’d willingly follow him into the jaws of Hell. It’s her death that alters Bennie’s motivation, and the transformation from being a greedy bastard after some cash into the spirit of revenge is one of the finest examples of high tragedy out there.

This is a “difficult” film, and that’s in part because it is so god damned nihilistic. Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a bleak and sordid tale, and as such is not easy to watch. Peckinpah’s Mexico is a down and dirty place, populated with characters with no redeeming feature; a land where life is cheap and respite from the misery is found in the bottom of a bottle. Garcia’s head becomes a grail quest for Bennie- it represents a sliver of hope in a horrible existence, and the eventual shattering of his delusions is what makes the film so hard to watch. Incidentally, apparently there is a scene out there, thankfully cut, that shows him making love (for want of a better expression) with Elita’s corpse, which is a bit too much even for Peckinpah.

As this is a Peckinpah film, we’re clearly not going to be short of gunplay, and Bennie kills more people than Spanish flu. Arguably Peckinpah’s most famous scene is the end of the Wild Bunch, and Alfredo Garcia is similarly stuffed full of slo-mo shoot outs. Yet, as stylised as the violence is, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. Bennie hasn’t borrowed Rambo’s jacket of invulnerability, and the death handed out, particularly to El Jefe, is brutal and coarse: life may be cheap in the film, but it  is very hard to say that in all honesty the majority of the victims don’t deserve their demise- and as such this makes the end even harder to take, because Bennie is completely off reservation by this point and you get the feeling that he knows that his own end is coming.

Overall, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a minor masterpiece. It’s a gritty pulp story told with no little panache and stock full of stunning performances. I find it insane that this film rates on some people’s lists of the worst movies of all time along with schlocky trash like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians or Manos. Such an absurd statement can only have been borne from the alienation of Alfredo Garcia, and the difficulty that elitist turd Medved had watching it. In some ways, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is the definitive cult movie- and it does seem to have found its audience long after it was first released.

This is the film that has been credited with killing Peckinpah’s career, and it’s fitting that Bloody Sam went down in a hail of bullets, as I cannot think of another film that encapsulates an entire career like this one.

Until next time,

Jarv.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

55 responses to “The Underrated: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”

  1. Jarv says :

    Having said that I can’t think of another film as career defining as this one, I’ve just thought of about 4:

    The Brood, Big Trouble in Little China and so forth.

    D’oh. Never mind.

  2. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I’ve never seen this I have to admit.
    It sounds pretty good, though I have to wholeheartedly agree, no need to see a dude banging a corpse.

    I’ll have to get around to seeing it one of these days.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    Warren Oats is one seriously underrated actor. He can do tragic or violent or tough guys comed or the everyman straight laced character. He was top notch.

    I agree with your review Jarv, this is a forgotten classic. One minor quibble all of melon heads excess are his problem and not anyone’s else..

  4. Xiphos0311 says :

    which genius cast Kate Bosworth in the Susan George role? She’s got the sex appeal of a tapioca filled jockstrap

    I forgot to commend you on that line, I almost choked on my tea when I read it.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers.

      It’s fucking true though. I could not think of anyone worse to put in that role.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        She really is a charisma challenged suck hole with no talent. she has gotten so skinny that she looks like a head on a stick

        Its strange though she was actually all right in Blue Crush(and healthy looking) but after that nada.

      • Jarv says :

        She looked horrible in the promos I saw for Straw Dogs.

        You need mucho sex appeal for that role. She’s got none. You need curves, and world class juggs and shit. Think Kevin Bacon’s desription of his dream woman in Tremors. Susan George is a terrible actress, and actively sucks in that role, but she had this in spades.

        Bosworth is a terrible actress, with no juggs and no sex appeal. Also, don’t get me started on the other side of that casting: Marsden in the Hoffman role- because he’s a squirrelly little nerd like Hoffman with problems controlling his woman.

        Awful casting. On both fronts.

      • Jarv says :

        Has anyone seen it? I’m curious if Bosworth got what passes for her juggs out. And 1 million internets says they toned down the rape scene.

      • Jarv says :

        Just read Fatasses review. I’m not certain he’s seen the original. Or if he has, he’s completely misunderstood it, and the last third is NOT Awesome, you sickening fat cunt.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        That is one thing you can say about Susan George she exuded sex appeal she literally oozed it all over the screen. With Bosworth all you get is somebody that looks like a taught pre teen Swedish lad.(thanks Seinfeld)

        But Jarv based on the promos I saw Marsden wore glasses so that made him a nerd even though he’s good looking and in great shape.

      • Jarv says :

        He’s too big and too built. Should have been that fuck from Zombieland that looks like he can’t fight sleep.

        That’s the point.

        Fatasses review is disgusting, by the way. I know that isn’t a shock but this:

        Casting a superhero for DAVID SUMNER instantly diffuses the awesome that Hoffman unleashed in the original 3rd act.

        Makes me want to stomp him into dust. IT ISN’T MEANT TO BE AWESOME YOU FAT FUCK. HOFFMAN DOESN’T “EXPLODE” IN THE LAST ACT.

        It’s fucking painful that someone as stupid as him has a profile as high.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I didn’t see it couldn’t be bothered

      • Jarv says :

        No, I don’t know anyone that has. Maybe Jonah.

        No reason at all for it to exist.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Casting a superhero for DAVID SUMNER instantly diffuses the awesome that Hoffman unleashed in the original 3rd act.

        That doesn’t make any sense, surprise surprise.

      • Jarv says :

        I know, and it’s the random capitalisation that hurts as well.

        Fat fucking idiot. He does it to the world “IRELAND” as well later in a sentence that is to sense what meerkats are to synchronised swimming.

        Outta here.

        See you later.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Later.

  5. tombando says :

    *Saw some of this the other day on AMC I think it was. Semi interested? I will check out more of it lator on.

    *Liked Oates fine. Loathed Medveds books. (Tony Curtis one of the worst actors ever-? really Mikey? How about yer one of the worst excuses for a critic ever? Now we’re talkin’…)

    *Clearly Cokey saw this one.

    *Webber and Gig Young as fartnocker hitmen-?? sounds like a bad SNL skit-

  6. Continentalop says :

    Always loved this movie. Big Peckinpah fan, despite the fact that he is without a doubt a misogynist (but I think that misogyny played into why he could make such good movies, kind of like how HP Lovecraft’s racism and xenophobia played into his fiction).

    You could basically do an entire series of underrated Peckinpah films. This, plus Ride the High Country, Junior Bonner, Pat Garret & Billy the Kid, and Cross of Iron come to mind.

    • Jarv says :

      I like pat Garrett.

      I did think about doing a whole bloody Sam series, I may com back to it.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Not sure he’s a misogynist I think its more a reflection of his time and place.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m not sure either, but I saw Susan George interviewed and she said he blatantly was. I think it’s hard to differentiate between the misogyny and the massive drug and alcohol abuse.

      • Continentalop says :

        He supposedly beat at least one of his wives, so I think you could look at that as evidence.

        I think it was more than just his era. I think he personally had issues about his masculanity and issues with women. Of course, I also think his problems made him a better filmmaker.

        Disfunction and artistry seem to go hand in hand.

      • Jarv says :

        Not necessarily true.

        There are plenty of examples of great artists, poets, playwrights etc that weren’t dysfunctional.

      • Jarv says :

        A very easy example is Matisse. Lived with his missus until a ripe old age. Mind you, against that you have Picasso.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Fair enough Conti. Wasn’t Peckinpah have some sort of mental illness and self medicated to large degree with booze and drugs? Those mixtures never turn out well for anybody.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s exactly what I read in Wikipedia yesterday. He had some kind of issue from being in the Marines. I think anyway- depression or something.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Yikes i screwed that sentence up badly while rewriting it.

        I sort of vaguely remember something about him being maniac depressive or something that would go a long way towards making him seem like a jerk

      • Jarv says :

        It was something like that anyway. He also talked about seeing executions of Chinese prisoners by Japanese and not being allowed to intervene. I don’t believe that, and I think it is uncorroborated.

      • tombando says :

        Peckinpah was a piece of work, you can prob imagine what the sets of the movies he did with Steve Mcqueen were like. Didnt he do the Getaway?

  7. MORBIUS says :

    Jarv

    Have never seen this, but based upon your review

    and that Susan George is in it (terribly smitten with her

    in my youth), this shall be rectified!

    Tintorera: Killer Shark and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry
    were filmed in her prime!!! Hubba Hubba!!!

    Also, really liked ‘Misfits with Hitler’.

    “Just been fightin Fookin Nazis …

    and kickin the shit out of Hitler!”

    The girl in the coma/life support ep, not so much.

    • Jarv says :

      Susan George is in straw dogs. Vega is in this, but she’s very fetching too.

      Coma girl was shit, but you’ve got Zombie Cheerleaders in 2 episodes. Quest for Rudy’s nob is next.

      • MORBIUS says :

        Zombie Cheerleaders FTW!!!
        Please say it’s good, Let it Be … good!

      • Jarv says :

        It’s good Morbi. Funny as hell, very gross on occasion. If they’d fucked up Zombie Cheerleaders I would have been unimpressed. You’ve just got the quest for Rudy’s cock to deal with first

  8. ThereWolf says :

    Nice one, Jarv.

    Annoyingly never seen this. Another one of those I always mean to but then never do. But I definitely will this time (he says, knowing what happened last time…) No this time it’s diffferent, I’m going to watch it (he says… etc, etc…)

    I’ll go and check to see if it’s at Lovefilm…

  9. Droid says :

    Haven’t seen this one. I read Eberts review of it ages ago, and have forgotten to track it down. Sounds odd. And bloody.

  10. El Guapo says :

    Great movie, but flawed. It needs to be remade. I’d keep the same script, more or less. Ratchet down the Patron to a more local guy (getting on the airplane with the head, yeah right…). Make the bikers and the hit men Mexicans…and I’d cast Steve Buscemi as Bennie. Sweet.

    SPOILER: I think he should live at the end, too.

    • Jarv says :

      I’m sure he doesn’t get on a plane with the head. It’s gone a bit manky by the time he gets to Mexico city.

      Also, the hit men need to stay American. They’re outsiders as much as Benny is.

      Buscemi is a great shout, but I’d want someone who looks like he could kick some ass.

      Salma in the hooker role.

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