The first few minutes of Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece (and yes, I realize that plenty of people loathe this film but I honestly mean 'masterpiece' when I say it) of dirty, acid soaked seventies action is presented in Spanish, but subtitles or not we're still able to understand that a well to do patron (played by Emilio Fernandez of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid) of a large Mexican family is upset over a scandal involving his unwed daughter who has become pregnant by the seed of a man known only as Alfredo Garcia. This causes the father to put a bounty on Garcia and he asks that his head be brought to him as proof once he is dead as he proclaims loudly 'Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!' and thus obviously giving the film it's excellent title and kicking the film into high gear.
Enter two bounty-hunters interested in cashing in on Mr. Garcia's misfortune. The pair set out to Mexico and on their way they stop at a local dive where they encounter small time piano-player named Bennie (played by Warren Oates of Cockfighter and Two Lane Blacktop), an American now residing in Mexico for reasons that are never disclosed. As they interrogate members of the bar for information, Bennie gets involved and ends up taking an offer for $10,000 to bring in Alfredo Garcia, not alive, but dead. Again, his head as proof is required – the rest of his body is of no consequence. Bennie, as it turns out, is sort of romantically involved with a singer named Elita (Isela Vega of Joshua The Black Rider) who, by coincidence, was once a lover of Garcia's. Elita drops a bomb on Bennie when she tells him that she knows for a fact that he is already dead. Benny figures they can still take in his head and cash in on the ten grand, and he gives her no choice but to lead him to his grave, where they find the body, and a whole lot more as it turns out that more than one party is intent on collecting the reward whether Bennie likes it or not.
Not as overtly over the top in the violence department as his masterpiece,The Wild Bunch, (though at times, damn close) Peckinpah still manages to pack quite a bloody wallop into the film's one hundred and ten minute running time. Many of the late director's trademarks are prominently on display in the film – the Mexican setting (an obvious influence on the south of the border brothel scene in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2), the slow motion and brutal violence of the action scenes, and plenty of misogynistic male characters boozing it up and slapping their women around for no real reason other than the fact that they're slime balls and they can get away with it. But Sam did what he did and we all love him for it and this entry into his filmography is a perfect example of just how good he could be when he was at the top of his game.
There's also a thick sense of dusty, jaded irony coating the entire production. The whole concept of a man traveling across the Mexican countryside with his crabs infested girlfriend to cut off the head of a dead and slowly decomposing Romeo is twisted enough as it is but the subtle touches of black humor (the film is named after someone who is dead before the movie even starts, if you don't see the irony in that…) make it an even stranger film if you pay close enough attention to more than just what lays on the surface. The movie is not simple an exercise in nihilism – though that was probably at least part of it. There's enough drama and just enough characterization to make the movie interesting as more than a simple 'shoot'em up and watch'em bleed.'
Benny is hardly an admirable hero – very, very far from it. He's self serving, creepy, dishonest, and sexist. We're not talking about Errol Flynn here. His lady friend is no better. We know she's infected with a sexually transmitted disease that she got from sleeping around, and it's made perfectly clear she had 'relations' with the titular Mr. Garcia – she's not a lady of high moral standing, and when it all boils down, she's no better than the man she's chosen to align herself with. Despite their very obvious shortcomings, however, there are some moments where it's apparent that they really do care for each other and in a sense they seem to have found each other because they can find no one else.
Take a look at the supporting cast as well – personal friend to the director and regular collaborator Kris Kirstofferson plays Paco, one half of a pair of rapists. Robert Webber (of Midway) and Gig Young (from Bruce Lee's Game Of Death) play the two 'gringos' who put Benny up to the job in the first place, their motives purely selfish, and even evasive.
There aren't really any noble, or quite honestly, likeable characters in the film. It's difficult to have any sympathy for anyone in the movie, as they're all pretty dastardly. With that major strike against it, and let's face it, it's a big one, it is a testament to Peckinpah's directorial skills and more poignantly Warren Oates' scenery chewing, venom spewing performance that the film turned out as great as it did. This movie makes you root for a man very much void of any moral standing – you'll find yourself hoping that the scumbag will make it out of there alive, with the head in the bag all covered in flies and stained in sickly brown blood, so that he can get his money and take off with his girl.
The entire experience is one that only Peckinpah could have created, and he does so with almost very much a Shakespearian sense of tragedy. This was Sam's film – his touch is all over it not just with the direction but with his involvement in the script (it was his idea to change the ending to the way it ended up in the final cut), the casting, and even the soundtrack. Truly a product of the seventies, and politically incorrect enough to ruffle a few feathers (my wife thought it was horribly sexist, and she's right), the film allows for Warren Oates to give the performance of a lifetime and one that he will always be remembered for, and for 'Bloody Sam' Peckinpah to stage enough slow motion gun play scenes for it to all come together into some sort of fantastic, dirty, bloody dream.
MGM presents Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85.1 in a transfer that is enhanced for anamorphic sets. This looks to be the same transfer that was on the Korean DVD, which is fine as that disc looks pretty good and when comparing it to the Japanese DVD, again, it's pretty similar with maybe a little less edge enhancement. The film has a pretty bleak color scheme in a few scenes so this moments look a little (intentionally) dull but for the most part the hues and tones in the transfer do come across looking very nice and natural in their appearance. Skin tones are pretty lifelike, black levels are strong and stable and don't pixelate or break down, and the reds don't bleed into the other colors (pun intended).
While there is some very minor print damage that appears on the transfer in the form of the off speck of dirt and dust here and there, as well as a fine coat of very natural looking film grain, overall the source material used for this release appears to have been in pretty decent shape. In short, the movie looks very good (just not perfect). The transfer does a good job of bringing the grungy-grimy feel of the movie to your home theater screen.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack is pretty clean. There's the odd trace of some mild hiss in a couple of spots but other than that, there aren't any problems. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to understand, and there's nothing exceptionally distracting or audibly wrong with the mix. The technophile in me would have loved to have heard the car shoot out scene in 5.1 Surround Sound, but the original mix that is supplied here does get the job done just fine without any problems.
Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French and there's an English closed captioning feature available as well.
While this isn't a full fledged special edition (I can dream, right?) MGM has gotten Peckinpah experts Paul Seydor (author of Peckinpah – The Western Films), Garner Simmons (author of Peckinpah – A Portrait In Montage), and David Weddle (author of one of the finest director biographies I've ever had the pleasure of reading, If They Move, Kill'em – The Life And Times Of Sam Peckinpah), moderated by Nick Redman. These are the three commentators that MGM rounded up for the track that they recorded for last year's release of Peckinpah's Junior Bonner and if you liked what you heard on that disc, you'll be equally impressed with their turn out this time around as well, and out of the three releases of this film on DVD so far, this track is unique to the region one disc (it isn't on either the Korean or Japanese release). The three Peckinpah biographers go into quite a bit of detail on the background of the film as well as its director and its cast. They've got information not only on the people involved in making the film but also on the situations surrounding it, location information, and some technical information as well. This is a very well rounded commentary track that, thanks to the involvement of three experts on the subject, crams a lot of information into its running time.
Aside from the commentary, the only other extra feature on this DVD is the film's original theatrical trailer. The Japanese DVD release had a still gallery on it that didn't make it onto this release.
I realize that Warren Oates and Sam Peckinpah are obviously unable to have been involved with this release (seeing as they're dead and all) but there are enough surviving cast members kicking around that it's a shame MGM didn't try and track down any of them for interviews or put some effort into a documentary surrounding the controversy the film caused both during production with the studio and during its theatrical run.
Well, it's been a long time coming for Region 1 Peckinpah fans. Many of us broke down and picked up either the Korean or Japanese DVD releases before this one hit, but if you want the commentary track (and you do) you know you're going to go out and pick this one up too. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is consummate Peckinpah – this movie sweats blood and dirt from the first frame. MGM could have put a little more effort into the extras but the movie looks very good (not quite perfect, but very good) and the audio is solid as well. Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.