As movie legend has it, Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garret and Billy the Kid was taken away from him by a studio frustrated by spiralling production costs and delays and edited down for a release that would bomb at the box office. It wasn’t uncommon for his films to fall prey to studio interference. So for his next film, 1974’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Peckinpah shot in Mexico on a low budget so that he could keep control of the final film. It didn’t change his fortunes and was another financial failure and critics dismissed it (viciously in some cases). Like many a film, time has been kinder to Garcia and while it has picked up the prerequisite cult following, it’s also managed a serious critical re-evaluation.
Teresa is the young daughter of crime boss El Jefe. He’s not happy someone has dishonoured her and the family by getting her pregnant. When she reveals (under duress) the name of her baby’s father it’s Alfredo Garcia. This is a further personal betrayal for the old man and he quickly makes it known anyone who brings him Garcia’s head is in line for a cool $1m reward. Here enters Warren Oates as Bennie, a piano player in a bar with few prospects. He encounters two of the hitmen on the hunt for Garcia and they tip him there’s money in finding Alfredo. The thing is, Bennie knows Garcia is already dead, so it’s just going to be a simple task of finding the body and bringing El Jefe his bounty, right? So begins a twisted road trip that will mean violence for pretty much everyone involved.
Garcia is from the period in Peckinpah’s career where the often brutally violent mixed with an elegiac machismo. That’s certainly part of this film, but it’s also a strange, disturbingly beguiling blend of oddball, unhealthy love story and black comedy. Oates, an underrated actor, is outstanding as the seedy, steadily more unhinged Bennie, who’s deranged plan falls apart around him. Garcia remains an entirely unusual film and will not be to all tastes, not least in the still problematic way Peckinpah handles his female characters. For everyone who comes away from it certain it’s a masterpiece (not quite for us, but close), there’ll likely be just as many that are convinced it’s anything but.
A word on Arrow’s release for this Blu-ray: it’s truly outstanding stuff and a goldmine for any Peckinpah enthusiast or film lover. There’s the superlative documentary on the director (Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron) in here amongst other welcome and substantial extras providing context for the film that make this a highly recommended release.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: SAM PECKINPAH / SCREENPLAY: SAM PECKINPAH, GORDON DAWSON / STARRING: WARREN OATES, ISELA VEGA, ROBERT WEBBER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW