Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, Sam Peckinpah) – Classic

“There ain’t nothing sacred about a hole in the ground or the man that’s in it.”

Sam Peckinpah’s bleakest film is one of his most personal. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is nasty, brutish and embittered, but also romantic in its own drunken way; part wish fulfilment and part death wish. The late, great Warren Oates is in his element as Bennie, a cynical barroom pianist in a Mexican drinking hole who foolishly accepts a gig to bring the head of a philandering young stud to an angry Mexican crime boss.

Two hitmen walk into Bennie’s bar looking for Alfredo Garcia. They offer Bennie the chance to earn some cash by finding Garcia. Bennie meets their associates, the money me, who sit in a lifeless office sipping brandy and smoking cigars. It is easy to imagine these suits as being Hollywood executives and Peckinpah as Bennie forced to deal with these snakes to get the money he needs.

Bennie is given four days to deliver Alfredo Garcia’s head and it had better match the picture he has been given. Otherwise Bennie will be the man they come after. Robert Webber and Gig Young are genuinely nasty as Sappensly and Quill, the two hitmen with a relationship that seems to be modelled on Mr Wynt and Mr Kidd from the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton 1971).

Bennie knows Alfredo Garcia is already dead having met his end in a car crash. He searches out Elita (Isela Vegas) who knows where Garcia’s body is buried. Bennie and Elita become an item though he loses her when he crosses the threshold between life and death by digging up the corpse of Alfredo Garcia and sets himself on a confrontation with his paymasters.

Although famed for the violence present in his films, Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a slow-moving affair. It moves at a drunkards pace, with Warren Oates shambolic protagonist realising too late his dreams of a life on the open road with his girlfriend and his £10,000 are impossible.

In its own perverse way it is a love letter to Mexico, even though the place is presented as being extremely dangerous. In its quieter moments though, Peckinpah makes the country look like heaven. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is fatalistic offering little hope for Bennie, nor for its director who by then had tired of Hollywood interfering in his work. Critics hated the film on its release describing it as nihilistic, but really it’s a sentimental work by a man who was big enough to admit he’d had enough.

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