• Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (Twilight Time)

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: March 8, 2014.
    Director: Sam Peckinpah
    Cast: Warren Oates, Emilio Fernandez, Kris Kristofferson, Isela Vega
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    The first few minutes of Sam Peckinpah's of dirty, acid soaked seventies action is presented in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak the language or want to read the subtitles we're still able to understand that a well to do patron (played by Emilio Fernandez of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid) of a large Mexican family is upset. It seems that his young and unwed daughter has become pregnant by the seed of a man known only as Alfredo Garcia. This causes the father to put a bounty on Garcia and he asks that his head be brought to him as proof once he is dead. He literally proclaims in no uncertain terms, 'Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!' giving the film it's excellent title and kicking the film into high gear.

    Enter two bounty-hunters interested in cashing in on Mr. Garcia's misfortune. The pair set out to Mexico and on their way they stop at a local dive where they encounter small time piano-player named Bennie (played by Warren Oates of Cockfighter and Two Lane Blacktop). He’s an American now residing in Mexico for reasons that are never disclosed. As they interrogate members of the bar for information, Bennie gets involved and ends up taking an offer for $10,000 to bring in Alfredo Garcia, not alive, but dead. Again, his head as proof is required – the rest of his body is of no consequence. Bennie, as it turns out, is sort of romantically involved with a singer/prostitute named Elita (Isela Vega of Joshua The Black Rider) who, by coincidence, was once a lover of Garcia's. Elita drops a bomb on Bennie when she tells him that she knows for a fact that he is already dead. Benny figures they can still take in his head and cash in on the ten grand, and he gives her no choice but to lead him to his grave, where they find the body, and a whole lot more as it turns out that more than one party is intent on collecting the reward whether Bennie likes it or not.

    Not as overtly over the top in the violence department as his masterpiece, The Wild Bunch, (though at times, damn close) Peckinpah still manages to pack quite a bloody wallop into the film's almost two hour running time. Many of the late director's trademarks are prominently on display in the film – the Mexican setting (an obvious influence on the south of the border brothel scene in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2), the slow motion and brutal violence of the action scenes, and plenty of misogynistic male characters boozing it up and slapping their women around for no real reason other than the fact that they're slime balls and they can get away with it. But Sam did what he did and we all love him for it and this entry into his filmography is a perfect example of just how good he could be when he was at the top of his game and given some creative freedom. There's also a thick sense of dusty, jaded irony coating the entire production and more than a little bit of Peckinpah himself to be found in the character of Bennie. The whole concept of a man traveling across the Mexican countryside with his crabs infested girlfriend (Bennie douses his genitals in tequila after sleeping with Elita) to cut off the head of a dead and slowly decomposing Romeo is twisted enough as it is, but the subtle touches of black humor (the film is named after someone who is dead before the movie even starts, if you don't see the irony in that…) make it an even stranger film. If you pay close enough attention to more than just what lays on the surface, this nasty little noirish revenge thriller turns out to have quite a bit more depth to it than might seem obvious at first glance. The movie is not simply an exercise in nihilism – though that was probably at least part of it. There's enough drama and just enough characterization to make the movie interesting as more than a simple 'shoot'em up and watch'em bleed' but there are also some interesting metaphors here contrasting Bennie’s character and working style with Peckinpah’s own well documented clashes with producers and studio executives over the years.

    Benny is hardly an admirable hero – very, very far from it. He's self-serving, creepy, dishonest, and sexist. We're not talking about Errol Flynn here. In many ways, his lady friend is no better. We know she's infected with a sexually transmitted disease that she got from sleeping around, and it's made perfectly clear she had 'relations' with the titular Mr. Garcia – she's not a lady of high moral standing, and when it all boils down, she's no better than the man she's chosen to align herself with. Despite their very obvious shortcomings, however, there are some moments where it's apparent that they really do care for each other and in a sense they seem to have found each other because they can find no one else. There’s tenderness and a genuinely romantic tone to the scene that they share under a tree early in the film where they talk about what they’ll do when this is done and their plans to get married. As flawed as they are, they do love each other. Oates and Vega play their parts incredibly well. Oates has rarely been as good as he is in this picture. A remarkably talented and versatile actor who never got as many leading roles as he should have given his skill, he shows great range here. As the story intensifies and he comes to realize the inevitability of his predicament we see Bennie’s fortitude strengthen and as he toughens up, Oates crafts a fascinating character. Though he hides his emotions behind his sunglasses we know this can’t end well, and so does he. That might explain why he starts talking to Alfredo Garcia’s decapitated head.

    Take a look at the supporting cast as well – personal friend to the director and regular collaborator Kris Kristofferson plays Paco, one half of a pair of rapists. He shows up with Donnie Fritts to interrupt our couple, nothing on their mind but rape. In a scene that only Peckinpah could stage, we see Kristofferson take Vega off while Fritts holds Oates at gunpoint. We know what is going to happen, but then it takes a twist similar to the one used by the director a few years prior in Straw Dogs. Political correctness was obviously not a concern here and the director’s own issues with the fairer sex are rarely more obvious in this film than they are here. Yet at the same time it sets up the opportunity to create further tension between Oates and Vega and it also allows a character to draw first blood. Robert Webber (of Midway) and Gig Young (from Bruce Lee's Game Of Death) play the two 'gringos' who put Benny up to the job in the first place, their motives purely selfish, and even evasive. Their roles aren’t as well defined but the two middle aged actors play the hitmen well.

    There aren't really any noble, or quite honestly, likeable characters in this film. It's difficult to have any sympathy for anyone in the movie, as they're all pretty dastardly. With that major strike against it, and let's face it, it's a big one, it is a testament to Peckinpah's directorial skills and more poignantly Warren Oates' scenery chewing, venom spewing performance that the film turned out as great as it did. This movie makes you root for a man very much initially void of any moral standing – you'll find yourself hoping that the scumbag will make it out of there alive, with the head in the bag all covered in flies and stained in sickly brown blood, so that he can get his money and take off with his girl.

    The entire experience is one that only Peckinpah could have created, and he does so with almost very much a Shakespearian sense of tragedy. It also mixes in some wicked and very effective moments of black comedy – a shootout that takes place at the side of a desolate Mexican highway that breaks to let a bus full of tourists pass by, for example. This was Sam's film – his touch is all over it not just with the direction but with his involvement in the script (it was his idea to change the ending to the way it ended up in the final cut), the casting, and even the soundtrack. Truly a product of the seventies, and politically incorrect enough to ruffle a few feathers, the film allows for Warren Oates to give the performance of a lifetime and one that he will always be remembered for, and for 'Bloody Sam' Peckinpah to stage enough slow motion gun play scenes for it to all come together into some sort of fantastic, dirty, bloody fever dream.


    The movie arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed properly at 1.85.1 widescreen. Had the powers that hit this movie with excessive noise reduction, it would have hurt. A lot. This is a film meant to look gritty and grainy and dirty and cleaning it up too much would have been a horrible mistake. This transfer brings the movie to high definition quite nicely. We get the improved detail we’d hope for and good texture as well. Colors look nice and natural and black levels are good. Skin looks like skin, not wax, and there are no obvious compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues. Some might argue this should have looked a little cleaner than it does, but the rough look suits the movie nicely even if minor specks and print damage pop up pretty frequently. Presented on a 50GB disc, the bit rate stays pretty high, consistently in the mid to high thirties, and while the contrast occasionally blooms a bit, all in all this feels like a pretty accurate representation of some 35mm elements that weren’t fully restored.. The transfer on this Blu-ray release from Twilight Time appears to be identical to that used by Koch Media for their release in Italy.

    The only audio option provided for the feature is an English DTS-HD Mono track with optional subtitles available in English only. The audio is fine, there’s decent depth here and good clarity. The score sounds nice, gunshots have some power behind them and the dialogue is easy to understand. English subtitles appear on the screen automatically during the opening Spanish language scene.

    Fans of this picture who have follows its home video release will recall that MGM put it out a few years back with an audio commentary with courtesy of Paul Seydor (author of Peckinpah – The Western Films), Garner Simmons (author of Peckinpah – A Portrait In Montage), and David Weddle (author of one of the finest director biographies I've ever had the pleasure of reading, If They Move, Kill'em – The Life And Times Of Sam Peckinpah), moderated by Nick Redman. While the Koch Blu-ray release mentioned earlier omitted that track, it’s been carried over to this Twilight Time release. The men who participate here are the three commentators that MGM rounded up for the track that they recorded for their release of Peckinpah's Junior Bonner and if you liked what you heard on that disc, you'll be equally impressed with their turn out this time around as well. The three Peckinpah biographers go into quite a bit of detail on the background of the film as well as its director and its cast while Redman keeps them on topic and talking at a solid pace. They've got information not only on the people involved in making the film but also on the situations surrounding it, location information, and some technical information as well. This is a very well rounded commentary track that, thanks to the involvement of three experts on the subject, crams a lot of information into its running time.

    New to this disc is a second commentary, this time with writer/producer Gordon Dawson and once again with Nick Redman. There’s a lot of good information in this track as well, as Dawson worked with Peckinpah not just on this picture but on The Ballad Of Cable Hogue and The Getaway so he knew the controversial filmmaker quite well. He offers up some stories about where the director was at during the period of his like that was taking place while this film was being made and shares some memories of writing the script and working on the picture with him. It’s well paced and really interesting even if Dawson doesn’t sound as if he’s in the best of health here. Regardless, it’s a great document that helps to further contextualize and record the history of the movie and it’s very worthwhile.

    From there we move on to the featurettes, starting with Passion & Poetry: Sam’s Favorite Film which clocks in at almost an hour in length. Directed by Mike Siegel this comprehensive documentary on the making of Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia rounds up a lot of interviewees including Vega, Kristofferson and Dawson to name only a few. There are quite a lot of great archival clips and images used here as well, to keep things visually interesting, but the bulk of the interest will stem from the interviews that include not only collaborators but friends and family as well. It’s thorough, well researched and a very welcome addition to the disc.

    The second featurette is A Writer’s Journey: Garner Simmons With Sam Peckinpah In Mexico and it’s a twenty-five minute piece in which Simmons talks about the time he spent with the filmmaker south of the border. He was on set during the time that the movie was made working on a biography of the director and he witnessed the good and the bad, as such, he has some interesting and unique stories and perspective to offer here.

    The disc also includes a still gallery called Promoting Alfredo Garcia that rounds up domestic and international promotional materials. Outside of that we get 6 TV Spots for the movie, the film’s original US theatrical trailer, an MGM 90th Anniversary promotional trailer and Jerry Fielding’s fantastic score presented as its own isolated DTS-HD track and sounding great.

    Inside the keepcase is a full color booklet of liner notes authored by Julie Kirgo that offer up a nice summary of the movie and some notes on where it fits in Peckinpah’s filmography and why. She also offers up some interesting anecdotes and trivia about the picture in addition to offering some critical analysis of the movie. Some nice poster art and stills are used to illustrate the booklet.

    The Final Word:

    Twilight Time has really rolled out the red carpet for their Blu-ray release of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, and rightly so. It’s a fantastic film, a grim neo-noir full of nihilistic excitement and some iconic performances, particularly the work from Warren Oates. The Blu-ray looks pretty good and sounds decent too and on top of that it’s stacked with a nice selection of supplemental material that not only offers up some welcome critical analysis of the picture but which do a great job of documenting its history as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Nolando's Avatar
      Nolando -
      Great detailed review, Ian - it's convinced me to pick it up. thanks!