Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
December 8, 2020 9:41 PM - Subscribe

An American bar room pianist and his prostitute girlfriend go on a trip through the Mexican underworld to collect a bounty on the head of a dead gigolo.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Spanish: Tráiganme la cabeza de Alfredo García) is a 1974 Mexican-American neo-Western film directed by Sam Peckinpah, co-written by Peckinpah and Gordon Dawson from a story by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, and starring Warren Oates and Isela Vega, with Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández and Kris Kristofferson in supporting roles.

Made in Mexico on a low budget after the commercial failure of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Alfredo García was, so Peckinpah claimed, the only one of his films released as he had intended. The film was a box office and critical failure at the time, but has gained a new following and stature in the decades since. -- (wikipedia)

"I think I can feel Sam Peckinpah's heart beating and head pounding in every frame in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a film he made during a period of alcoholic fear and trembling. I believe its hero, Bennie, completes his task with the same dogged courage as Peckinpah used to complete the movie, and that Bennie's exhaustion, disgust and despair at the end might mirror Peckinpah's own. I sense that the emotional weather on the set seeped onto the screen, haunting it with a buried level of passion. If there is anything to the auteur theory, then ''Alfredo Garcia'' is the most autobiographical film Peckinpah ever made.

"The film was reviled when it was released. The reviews went beyond hatred into horror. It was grotesque, sadistic, irrational, obscene and incompetent, wrote Joy Gould Boyum in the Wall Street Journal. It was a catastrophe, said Michael Sragow in New York magazine. ''Turgid melodrama at its worst,'' said Variety. Martin Baum, the producer, recalled a sneak preview with only 10 people left in the theater at the end: ''They hated it! Hated it!''

"I gave it four stars and called it ''some kind of bizarre masterpiece.'' Now I approach it again after 27 years, and find it extraordinary, a true and heartfelt work by a great director who endured despite, or perhaps because of, the demons that haunted him. Courage usually feels good in the movies, but it comes in many moods, and here it feels bad but necessary, giving us a hero who is heartbreakingly human--a little man determined to accomplish his mission in memory of a woman he loved, and in truth to his own defiant code." -- Roger Ebert, 2001

"As much as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is an exhilarating action film with dozens of dead bodies littered about the dusty, desolate landscape, this is a strange but powerful love story, an examination of people, emotions, relationships, love and sex. Think of the (improvised!) scene in which Elita confronts Bennie with the issue of their marital prospects–pure, intense, touching and deeply authentic. Peckinpah made a film that deeply resonates with the theme of lost time, ungrasped opportunities and the subtlety and complexity of true love. “This is Peckinpah making movies flat out, giving us a desperate character he clearly loves, and asking us to somehow see past the horror and the blood to the sad poem he’s trying to write about the human condition,” wrote Ebert in his original review 43 years ago. It took some time for the public to understand this poem, but Peckinpah, unfortunately, didn’t live to experience this deserved re-evaluation, being on the downward spiral during the very making of it. Co-writer Gordon Dawson saw this on set and pledged never to work with him again. “He really lost it on Alfredo. It tore my heart out.” Garner Simmons, the author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage (1983), recollected how the filmmaker “did not strike him as someone capable of the legendary mayhem and madness generally attributed to him,” calling Peckinpah “fragile.” Much like the antihero of Alfredo Garcia, Peckinpah was worn out, near the end of his road, almost beaten, but not quite. " -- Cinephilia & Beyond

"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is easily Peckinpah’s bleakest, most brutal film, and that in itself is saying something. It’s also a film that seems almost wilfully self-destructive, inasmuch as it is completely uncompromising in its vision of an utterly amoral and violent world. Peckinpah was just coming off the failure of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), which despite the “stunt” casting of Bob Dylan, a number of impressive performances and some bravura sequences showcasing the director’s trademark bloodshed, had performed poorly at the box office." -- Senses of Cinema

Trailer: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - 1974 (youtube)

Opening scene - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Peckinpah, 1974) (youtube)
posted by valkane (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just a little trivia note that I forgot: Emilio Fernández, who plays the father, or El Jefe, is rumored to be the model for the Oscar statuette, but not confirmed. The legend suggested that MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Motion Picture Academy members tasked with creating the Academy Award trophy, was introduced to Fernández by actress Dolores del Río and persuaded him to pose nude. -- wikipedia
posted by valkane at 11:02 PM on December 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I remember watching this at a young age thanks to Alex Cox and 'Moviedrome' on the BBC. Cox raided the BBC archives (and the BBC found a home for the weird films that were acquired in a bundle deal of movie rights) and introduced every film in a way that, forty years later, feels like it belongs on a massive Youtube movie channel... and I think kickstarted my love of the art of film-making

Here's the Moviedrome introduction. Enjoy!

(And for those fans of "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue", the film's title continues to be a classic punchline).
posted by ewan at 5:27 AM on December 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

And, of course, a recurring joke on ISIHAC.
posted by zadcat at 7:14 PM on December 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Arguably Peckinpah's best film. It was all downhill for him after this (mostly due to drink, but James Caan introducing him to cocaine didn't help).
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:21 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Despite seeing almost all of his oeuvre, I'm not much of a Peckinpah fan (don't @me unless you too have suffered through The Ballad of Cable Hogue), but this one in particular makes me laugh.

My departed dad, of whom most of my fave memories involve me and my older brother being taken to bars or movies (including one memorable night at a marathon drive-in showing of all five Planet of the Apes films) took me, my brother and my grandmother to see, yep, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia during its theatrical release.

As we left the theater, Grandma remained conspicuously and unusually silent, lips pursed. As we pulled out of the theater Dad turned to her and started asking what she thought of the movie, and was immediately interrupted with a curt "Don't talk to me!" I'd never seen Grandma more quietly, seethingly furious than she was on that car ride home. My brother and I knew we probably shouldn't have been taken to see this movie (I was 10), so pretended not to notice the tension in the air.

That Sense of Cinema review makes me want to rewatch his "bleakest, most brutal film" sometime, just to see the weird, childhood-inflected dreams it'll give me. He's a weird stylist, for sure, but his reputation as one of the Greats has always seemed a bit much.

This is Peckinpah...asking us to somehow see past the horror and the blood to the sad poem he’s trying to write about the human condition

Yeah, Grandma wasn't buying it.
posted by mediareport at 4:05 PM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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