This was obviously Sam Peckinpah’s most personal film: the director said Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia represents the one time in his entire career that the movie as made was 100 percent what he wanted. It is also his love letter to Mexico.
Even though the film was not exactly a Western it clearly has Western overtones to it—and of course Peckinpah was the man who single-handedly created the revisionist Western. Peckinpah write one of the early drafts of One Eyed Jacks, arguably the first which filled the gap between the old and new Westerns. Later he would direct The Wild Bunch, judged by many as one the greatest Westerns of all time, and many others.
In Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Warren Oates plays Benny, a low-life piano player in a Mexican bar. Some guys come in trying to find Alfredo Garcia, and Benny lies to them about knowing him, thinking he has found a way to make an easy buck. Little does he know that the guy who wants Garcia’s head is a big Mexican crime boss. Benny and his girlfriend go on a road trip trying to find the head.
The character of Benny is clearly based on Peckinpah himself, who at this point was about as down and out as you could get. He had always been a heavy drinker, had started to do a lot of coke, and had problems with women. It’s very much the director laying his soul out on film, and this may be why it was so hated by critics—to the extent of it ending up in a book about ‘the worst films of all time.’ Over the years, however, it has been re-evaluated as the last true Peckinpah movie (although I would say Cross of Iron was great, although it was also a more conventional, commercial film). Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was the last film that Peckinpah wrote.
It’s certainly the most surreal film Peckipah ever made, with a black comedic element throughout. Just the idea of a journey to find a head is strange enough, but at one point Benny starts talking to the head as well. It was one of the few leading roles for Warren Oates, who was under-appreciated at the time. Oates appeared in many revisionist Westerns, but usually as a character actor. He died extremely young due to heart failure. Kris Kristofferson also appears, playing a rapist in a strange rape scene where Bennie’s girlfriend seems to enjoy it but seems like it’s more out of survival than desire.
Peckinpah had lived this film in a sense—it was shot on location in Mexico on next to no money, and the director had already been to all those bars, knew the people, and had a personal feel for the setting. Even though it’s a bleak, fatalistic film, his love of Mexico shines through on-screen. Peckinpah also filmed Jim Thompson’s The Getaway—a good film, but a poor adaptation of the book, losing the surreal, violent last few chapters (as did the remake). In some way the hellish journey Peckinpah takes the viewer through with this film feels like him making up for that oversight.
Arrow Films has created this re-release with its own 4K restoration. The package includes a feature-length documentary, Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, unavailable previously on home video in the UK (it is also on the long out-of-print Criterion edition of Straw Dogs.) Two commentaries by different Peckinpah scholars, including Savage Cinema author Stephen Prince, are also on the disc, as is a recording of Peckinpah at the NFT and the theatrical trailer. A bonus disc provides hours upon hours of interview outtakes from Man of Iron. It’s all rounded off with a booklet with new and old writing on the film.