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.
The 1.85:1 widescreen picture is rendered in 1080p.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included.
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.