Celebrating Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’

Unapologetic. Cheap. Raw. Simple. And absolutely perfect. What else could I possibly say about Sam Peckinpah’s Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia? Released to an underserving audience, who didn’t realise what they had in front of them. Critics panned it. It was considered boring and didn’t go anywhere. But what is it that has given this film a new lease on life? New audiences are seeing it for the first time thanks to boutique distributors such as Arrow Video. But it can’t be just that. Right now the film industry still debates over what is better, Marvel films or Martin Scorsese’s back catalogue. We are seeing constant remakes, reboots and sequels that add nothing to the already laid foundation that came before it. Why should something like Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia even appeal to any kind of modern audience? I don’t have the answer, but let’s see what I can unravel. 

In Mexico, a young woman named Teresa is impregnated by a man by the name of Alfredo Garcia. Teresa’s father, El Jefe issues a bounty for one million dollars for Garcia’s head. The bounty hunters he has for the job stumble upon a piano player by the name of Bennie, who they assign the task of bringing back Garcia, dead or alive. Bennie agrees and decides to bring along his girlfriend Elita, who happens to have cheated on him recently with Garcia. Just by knowing this little bit of information, you can only imagine the tension this will create while on this hunt for Garcia. 

As I previously stated, critics panned this film. It was dubbed “gratuitous garbage” and “turgid melodrama at its worst”. And while this film could be considered violent, over-the-top, the character’s actions are at times unwarranted and that kind of feels like that’s the point. The way the film pans out in the final act, is outright carnage, and is it necessary? Absolutely not. But it makes for an explosive and hard-hitting ending that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Yet when it’s all said and done, be prepared to feel in a slightly sombre yet cathartic mood. Some consider the ending pointless, but that is the point. Bennie goes on this journey to bring the head of Alfredo Garcia, on the way his partner dies, and sure he got his money, but for what? For El Jefe to tell Bennie to toss the head away. 

Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is an incredibly tragic film for many reasons. When we are first shown Teresa being forced to give the name of the father of her unborn child by means of humiliation and a little bit of torture, you cannot help but feel anger and sadness for this young woman. She is paraded around as if she is a social leper and we are given the impression that she has not just let down her father but her community for getting pregnant. There is also an emphasis on other women’s faces when she is interrogated about who the father is of her child, and you cannot also help but relate to this. As a woman, you are thinking, what if this happened to me? We look on knowing this is wrong, yet feeling utterly helpless. 

Something that can deeply affect the audience is when we see Bennie slowly opening up to Elita. He finally tells her he loves her, as well as confessing he will one day marry her. He lets himself open up, knowing that she is someone who is heavily flawed and could possibly break his heart a lot over just one lifetime. Bennie wants a chilled life, with his partner, booze and piano. He doesn’t want or need this hassle as well as now having the truth about Elita cheating on him with Garcia. You truly see a man get to his ultimate limit in the final act, and as a viewer, you know that nothing good can come to him in the current situation he is in. Characters like Bennie seem to be a dime a dozen. We see these troubled men, put in a position that they cannot get out of, yet I find these are the type of characters that are not given empathy from viewers. When it comes to a character’s journey, it shouldn’t necessarily come down to how we get a positive resolution by the end of the film, but rather the events of the journey to change their mind and think different; whether it is seen as a positive resolution is completely subjective to each viewer. 

I read a few reviews on this film, and I found that critics and writers found this to be slow-paced and not cohesive when it comes to progressing between beginning, middle and end. This could be due to the fact this may not have been viewed as a modern-day western. It has common tropes that mirror a western but it is brought forward to 1974. And like westerns, the setting and plot are completely stripped back. It’s not overcomplicated, it’s not meant to be shiny, glossy and fake. We as audience members shouldn’t rely on heavy dramatised dialogue, and filler that goes nowhere. There also seems to be a refusal to accept context and themes and the film as a whole just as they are. This isn’t a film where you need to reach to find meaning in all of the subtleties. Peckinpah knew his audience, he knew how to piss off the distributors and he knew what he wanted for his films. There weren’t many directors like him in those days, or even since, who have this ability to say so much yet with so little. The performances in a lot of his films are brutally honest beyond repair, deeply flawed but they are human. If anything his films are a perfect example of human nature and how we behave in very real and tense situations.

Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a film that can be watched through different lenses. 

This is a film I watch when I want to sip on a peaty scotch and just watch a man do some hard work. Yet this is also a film I watch when I need to remind myself it’s completely normal to be who you are, and struggle with vulnerability – I struggle with that on a daily basis. But more than anything this is a film that won’t tell me lies, what I see on screen and what I feel, is as honest as it gets. Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a trailblazer and is in a category of its own. It is something that cannot be replicated, it can’t be rebooted or any of that tripe. All I can say is, if you haven’t seen this, turn this film on, turn off your phone and forget everything you previously thought about a raw cinematic experience; and just bask in the visceral feeling that will take over. 

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