Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
There are moments of pure craziness in Sam Peckinpah's 1974 bloodbath Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It's a revenge picture where the revenge only emerges by circumstance and changes course regularly, making friends of a severed head in a bag and the man who went looking for it, hoping to get paid by taking down the lout who just happened to sleep with his woman.
The titular Alfredo Garcia is never seen in the movie outside of a photograph. He has a bounty placed on his life after a rich Mexican gangster discovers the hustler got his daughter pregnant. Alfredo has already moved on, and bad men eager to collect the cool million offered go on his trail. Among them are a couple of harboiled American hoods (S.O.B.'s Robert Webber and That Touch of Mink's Gig Young). They come across another American playing piano in a rundown bar. Bennie (Warren Oates, Cockfighter) promises he can find Garcia, a task made easier when he realizes his prostitute girlfriend (Isela Vega) has been shacking up with loverboy; easier still, last time she saw Garcia, he got drunk and met with calamity. He's already deceased.
Structurally, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a chase picture without much of a chase. Peckinpah keeps the movie in a low gear, his tale moving slow like it's on a day drunk, with the other bounty hunters, and later Garcia's pissed-off family, only clashing with Bennie in rare, but important, instances. As with most of Peckinpah's movies, violence is a constant. The irony here is that Bennie can make good without having to resort to it. He just has to dig up a body, and then he and Elita can be married. He's foolish to think he is above the fray, however; in such a macho world, genuine affection cannot be allowed to carry on. The idyllic picnic where Bennie proposes to his love turns sinister moments later when two motorcycle thugs, including Peckinpah's pal Kris Kristofferson, show up and rape Elita. Bennie can only respond in one way. Arguably, Peckinpah does a lot more here than spur on the plot via prurient detail. He seems to be critiquing male strength and ego, showing how fragile both are. The stronger individual is Elita, who has a greater capacity for dealing with the crime done to her and moving on.
She's also against desecrating the grave of her former beau. She says it's sacred and not to be messed with. Though Bennie declares this to be silly superstition, his bride-to-be's fears are proven right. Bad things happen when Bennie has uncovered his human treasure, including him waking up in his own grave, having been buried alive. This scene is Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia's psychotic break. From there, the film only further loses its mind, with Bennie traveling across country, engaging in gunplay with other greedy crooks and conversation with the rotting skull in the car seat next to him.
Here, Peckinpah's execution begins to fail his imagination. Despite the garish situations he and co-writer Gordon Dawson conjur up, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia maintains the same restrained pacing. The director's filming style is as rough hewn and dirty as the material and the locale require, but his languid manner of editing draws out sequences that maybe shouldn't require such patience. I'm not advocating for a more modern jumpy approach to the action, but something more akin to Seijun Suzuki. Imagine Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia chopped up with the same haphazard ferociousness as Branded to Kill.
This would even give more weight to the emotional stuff at the heart of the film. The dead man's fever dream of the second half would be even more meaningful when juxtaposed with the warmth of the first half. Oates and Vega make a lovely pair, their affection emerging in a natural thaw, as the trappings of their squalid lifestyle melt away, leaving them with only each other. The tragedy is that if Bennie could see that's enough, the rest of this could be avoided and a happily ever after might be found. Instead, the stupid cowboy brought his gun into the bedroom.
Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-ray of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia does a fairly good job of preserving the gritty look of the film, maintaining a nice grain and the surface elements of the mid-70s film stock. Flaws do exist. There are occasional pops and blemishes, as well as a couple of scenes where the edges of the frame are fuzzy and out of focus. Details are otherwise nicely evident, with lots of small bits and pieces visible in the frame. Colore are fine, though maybe slightly faded.
The 1.85:1 widescreen picture is rendered in 1080p.
The mono soundtrack is clear and without drop-outs or any obscuration. There are, however, persistent sharp S's and the occasional tinny sound, making the audio sound like it's coming in through a wind tunnel. The audio channel is 1.0 DTS-HD MA.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included.
As is normal for the label, this Twlight Time release comes with an illustrated booklet, the expected isolated musical score, and two audio commentaries, one with co-writer Gordon P. Dawson, alongside cinephile Nick Redman, and the other featuring Redman with additional film experts.
There are two documentaries, the 55-minute "Passion & Poetry: Sam's Favorite Film," exploring the story behind the production, and the shorter "A Writer's Journey" with Garner Simmons, who was there for the shoot as Peckinpah's biographer.
You also get the theatrical trailer alongside six different television commercials and a gallery of promotional images.
Recommended. A delirious and borderline surreal effort from San Peckinpah, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is both the bloody affair you'd expect from the action director and also surprisingly touching in places. At the core of the story about the head, which ends up detached from the body it belongs to, is Warren Oates and Isela Vega, a cad and a prostitute in love, searching for a life together away from all this mess. Naturally, things don't go to plan--though I guess if you look at the ending a certain way, Oates does it all for love regardless, both his own and love directed at Garcia. The movie has a strange pacing that sometimes undercuts the insanity of its events, but still, a fascinating update of revenge westerns.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.