My experience with Sam Pekinpah’s work is pretty slim. But having seen The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, I was prepared enough to know Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia wasn’t going to be all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows.
The movie opens with a beautiful young woman, glowingly pregnant, laying by a picturesque river, surrounded by a rustic, yet majestic Mexican homestead. Everything is so perfect, you can just tell she’s going to be OK. Hang on, this is a Sam Pekinpah picture, of course she’s brutally tortured in the first minute or two. You see, this is a non-naptual aided knocking up and the girl’s dad is not too happy about it. So not too happy, he’ll have her arm broken if it means she’ll reveal the identity of the baby daddy. It works and a $1million bounty is put on the literal head of the obviously virile Alfredo Garcia.
Soon, henchmen have made their way to Mexico City where we meet Bennie, played by Warrren Oates (better known to me as Sgt. Hulka from Stripes). He’s an American ex-solider, now playing piano in a crappy bar and in love with a local hooker. It just so happens, that same hooker was also banging Alfredo Garcia on the regular and informs Bennie that Garcia’s already dead from a drunk driving accident. So they set off in search of his grave with Bennie thinking his job just got a whole lot easier since being dead will make Garcia less objectionable to a cheeky decapitation. Because this is a Pekinpah movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say things become a little more complicated than expected, leading to a shit load of bullets and a shit load of blood.
Despite the bright colours, blinding sun and daylight hours, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia comes with a serious film noir tone. Warren Oates’ gets plenty of Bogart-worthy dry quips and hard boiled, world weary observations. The main female character comes with a suitably dark and dangerous past. And Garcia’s head is as effective a mcguffin as the titular figurine in The Maltese Falcon. Like the falcon, the transit papers is Casablanca or the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the more obsessed Oate’s becomes with obtaining Garcia’s head and the closer he gets to accomplishing is goal, the less the object of that goal really matters in the grand scheme of things. It’s not about getting the heard or not getting the head, it’s about what we learn about the character and what he learns about himself in the persuit of the head.
A bit of a financial and critical flop on release, I found Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to be a really great, really gritty example of 70s film making at its toughest and pulpiest. The movie is even more entertaining when you realise that for every drink consumed on screen, Pekinpah probably had at least half a dozen while working behind the camera.