Judge Patrick Bromley demands the head of Andy Garcia.
Why is his head worth one million dollars and the lives of 21 people?
Somehow it took me my whole life to finally see Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, but I'm OK with that. This isn't a movie I could have appreciated as a young man. I could only have come to it as an adult, having lived some life and seen a bunch of Peckinpah movies first.
Mexico. 1973. A young girl is pregnant. Her father, a powerful man known as El Jefe demands to know who the father is. She identifies him as Alfredo Garcia, to which Jefe responds by offering a $1 million bounty for Garcia's head. Enter Bennie (Warren Oats, Ride With the Devil), an occasionally employed piano player who is asked by Jefe's goons if he knows anything about Garcia's whereabouts. He says he doesn't but turns to someone who does—his girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega, Drum), who recently had an affair with Garcia. She knows where Garcia is and just how to find him, but it's not at all what Bennie was expecting.
There is so much of Peckinpah in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia it's almost impossible to distinguish the art from the artist. It's the only of the director's films to be released as he originally intended, meaning that its flaws (and there several, from the rampant misogyny to the middle act that wanders a bit before cutting loose for the finale) can be attributed only to him. He wouldn't want it any other way.
In many ways, the movie feels like an update of Peckinpah's own The Ballad of Cable Hogue: both movies about down-on-their-luck men out of time hoping for one last score that will allow them to change their fates, both finding solace in women who have been around the block and therefore understand a broken hero, both headed down a path that will only end one way. After all, it is a Peckinpah movie. His best movies are all lyrical and sad, not so much mourning a past way of life as understanding there is no country for old men. That's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a film that sees the world as violent and cruel. The only way to get by is to be violent and cruel yourself, and even that's not a guarantee.
Warren Oates is one of those actors like Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum—guys who aren't so much performers as they are treasures gifted to us by the Movie Gods. They're guy who can't be appreciated as much by young viewers. It's not until you grow up, see the breadth of their work and have lived enough life that you can fully appreciate their world-weariness. Oates is a guy that makes any movie he appears in automatically better. Though he collaborated several times with Sam Peckinpah (in movies like Ride the High Country, Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch), their best partnership is Alfredo Garcia. Oates takes a character like Bennie, who is unlikable to the point of being pathetic on the page, and infuses him with real pathos. We don't always like Bennie, but Oates makes sure we understand him.
The movie is finally available on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Twilight Time, a boutique label that does limited runs of titles that immediately become collector's items. So while I'm thrilled to see movies like this receive an HD release, it bums me out to no end that only 3,000 copies are available. Everyone should be able to own or discover Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (or Body Double, or The Fury, or Wild at Heart?) on Blu-ray, not just the few lucky people who are able to shell out $70 for a copy on Ebay once the discs have all been quickly claimed. TWILIGHT TIME RANT OVER.
The 1080p image looks generally good; it's not the most beautiful film to begin with—all sun-bleached and desert-burned—so the transfer is faithful in that respect. There are more flecks and scratches than we're used to seeing on an HD master, but it almost becomes part of the experience and doesn't detract from the film. The lossless mono audio track can be a little tough to make out at times, but again it's probably because of the source. This is a rough movie held together by dirt and sweat and it both looks and sounds the part.
Whereas several of the Twilight Time releases I own come only with an isolated score as a bonus feature, the studio's release of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is pretty backed with extra material. Two audio commentaries have been included. First up is a conversation between writer/producer Gordon T. Dawson and historian Nick Redman; the second, ported over from the now out of print MGM DVD, features Redman and historians David Weddle, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. Both commentaries are terrific listening, as much about (if not more so) Peckinpah the man and filmmaker as they are about Alfredo Garcia. A pair of featurettes have been included, one a nearly hour-long look at the making of Peckinpah's favorite film and another focusing on Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons' time on set. Also included is a collection of promotional material, including a gallery of international marketing materials, six TV spots (presented all as one piece, not broken up individually) and the original theatrical trailer. As is almost always the case with Twilight Time releases, the score (by composer Jerry Fielding) is available on a separate isolated track.
Peckinpah made only a few movies after Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and it's fitting that it's the last true Peckinpah movie (his next movies would be for-hire gigs or marred by studio interference). It's not his masterpiece—that would still be The Wild Bunch—but it's one of his best, a dirty, ugly movie about dirty, ugly people doing dirty, ugly things. A man drives around with a head in a bag, flies buzzing around it, not yet understanding that he's no better off. In Peckinpah's world, the flies have it figured out. The rest of us just need to catch up.
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