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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Although "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" may have been the tenth of thirteen films helmed by Sam Peckinpah, compared to his final three big screen efforts, it is in many ways the last film with the Peckinpah style. Arriving on the heels of the troubled "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kidd," "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" sees Peckinpah in the director's chair as well as the co-writer's seat, telling the timeless tale of morally questionable characters engaging in often amoral behavior. Set in the dusty underworld of Mexico (an underworld that is far more romantic than the modern cartel influenced settings as portrayed in "Traffic" and "Sicario"), Peckinpah's tale follows Bernie (Warren Oates in a career highlight), a hard-lived former soldier, crooning with drunk tourists in a grimy Mexican bar who sees a chance at quick cash by tracking down the titular character.
Peckinpah has gone on the record having said "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" being the only film he never had conflicts with the studio over and given the overall content of the film as well as it's deliberate, somewhat trying pacing, it's a notion I wouldn't think to argue against. Peckinpah's directorial eye follows a deliberate path; in fact it's almost 15-minutes before Bernie comes on the scene. The viewer is taken on a very quick first-act that sets the scene for the two-hour feature, a lot of side characters are introduced, but names are irrelevant; they are broad characters with big personalities who serve specific purposes in getting Bernie on a road that eventually leads to numerous betrayal's and trademark violent Peckinpah set pieces.
Revisiting "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" for the review of this remastered DVD release, marks the first time in about a decade since I last watched the film. While I'm by no means a seasoned traveller of life, the film has taken on a new level of meaning every time I've watched it. On its surface, it's an crime film, but beneath, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" is a snapshot in the life of a man who life has treated roughly and who has returned the same treatment to the world. The casting of Warren Oates is sheer brilliance, as Oates' career highlights have featured similar characters: hard-men who have zero time to put on facade's for the outside world unless it seeks to line their pocket. Oates' Bernie is a man who is quick to sing out of tune for drunk tourists at a piano, but when the prospect of $10,000 to literally bring the head of a man who may or may not be a friend is presented, smiles are stashed, intentions are guarded, and morality is abandoned.
The key component to understanding Bernie's place in the world is his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), who has an equally gray moral compass, but one the result of having to compromise oneself to survive in a harsh environment. Elita's treatment at the hand of of Bernie as well as other unsavory characters in the film is another Peckinpah trademark, but a decidedly sad and uncomfortable one. Like many Peckinpah films, "Bring Me the the Head of Alfredo Garcia" treats women with disdain and objects for violence for shock and/or impetus for our hero to act. Buried deep within Bernie, there is care and affection for Elita that becomes clear midway through the film, but Bernie, a damaged amoral force of nature uses Elita as a means to an end.
Ultimately, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" reaches a dramatic crescendo that provides a final act fitting of a Peckinpah film. The journey there is more than a little rocky, both intentionally and otherwise, as the 112-minute runtime at some moments feels a little bloated. It's this single solitary factor that really drives home the notion that the film was controlled by Peckinpah 100% through and through. In many ways, anyone familiar with Peckinpah's own life and interactions with others, that one might see the character of Bernie as a fictional echo of his own frustrations with life and a career fighting a system to make a name for himself. While the film itself doesn't have the polish or epic feel of "The Wild Bunch" or "The Getaway" it is unequivocally a pure Peckinpah offering from start to finish.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a definite upgrade over the previous MGM era DVD. Touted as sourced from a recent HD remastering (which I'd imagine was the source of the fine Blu-Ray offering from Twilight Time), "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" is still a rough looking film. The color palette has a slightly washed out feel, equal parts rough filming and a rough setting, nothing really pops on the screen. Detail is average to above average at best, with some film grain definitely present and some minor artifacting. Overall, it's a soft looking transfer that feels like it's lacking the oomph one would expect from a 2017 release of notable film.
The English Stereo audio track is roughly on-par with the transfer in overall technical quality. It's definitely a serviceable track and provides a clear and clean sonic presentation. Dialogue is front heavy and dominates the film from stem to stern, with effects, notably gunfire and the squealing of tires sounding slightly canned and hollow. Jerry Fielding's score is peppered in the background and honestly at times isn't as noticeable as one would would expect. English subtitles are included.
Extras consist of a feature-length commentary by historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman.
"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" is definitely top-tier Peckinpah, albeit not an entry point for new viewers. It's an uncompromising, dark and dirty character portrait that gets better on repeat viewings. On its surface it's what it advertises but much more it's Peckinpah getting to release his frustrations on the big screen, leaving viewers uncomfortably invested and left with a clear sense of what life for a man constantly at war with the world is like. Kino Lorber's DVD release is a major improvement over MGM's previous release and for anyone who didn't snag Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-Ray is a worthy purchase despite the less than perfect A/V presentation. Highly Recommended.