for 2.Jan. TRIBUNE: ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’ (1974) [8/10 {>>9 after viewing,21.5.09}]

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
USA/Mexico 1974

Starring : Warren Oates, Isela Vega
Director : Sam Peckinpah
THEY really don't make movies anymore like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – Sam Peckinpah's blood-soaked, tequila-stained, sweat-drenched semi-classic. Nor do "they" devise posters like the one United Artists used back in 1974: no artwork, just the word GUTS in big red letters above a lengthy text praising Peckinpah for bringing "a new kind of violent reality to the screen… His newest, set in modern-day Mexico, is a story of violence and greed and revenge… It's bound to provoke controversy… cheered by some as a new classic in the mold of Treasure of the Sierra Madre… cursed by others as a bloody and brutal hymn to machismo."
   Of course, a film can be a "new classic" while also being "a bloody and brutal hymn to machismo" – and Alfredo Garcia certainly comes mighty close. The last script Peckinpah wrote himself (in collaboration with Gordon Dawson and Frank Kowalski), this is a swaggeringly rough-edged affair, the tone set by the terrific central performance by Peckinpah favourite Oates as hard-up American bar-pianist Bennie (think Tom Waits after a month-long Jose Cuervo session), stuck in a misbegotten corner of northern Mexico.
   Here the Mr Big is 'El Jefe' (Emilio Hernandez), who's chagrined to discovers that his virginal daughter is pregnant by local stud Alfredo Garcia. El Jefe offers a massive bounty to whoever can accede to the request immortalised in the film's title – and Bennie, whose own girlfriend (Vega) had also been "seeing" Garcia just before his death –  devises a plan to get his hands on the loot. He knows that Garcia is already six feet under - all he has to do is dig up the corpse, separate head from body, and present the prize to El Jefe. But complications ensue.
   Though relatively plot-light – the story's dramatic pivots are very generously spaced-out – Alfredo Garcia is very heavy indeed on character. And as a showcase for the talents of Oates, who wears big dark glasses at nearly all times (even in bed), it's superb.Peckinpah's trademark stylised presentation of violence (gunplay is always slo-mo) may become repetitive, but he creates a thoroughly involving world of moral and physical decay, full of inspired moments and black humour. There are some dead patches – the sequences with Kris Kristofferson (as an amoral biker) are so torpid it's a relief when Oates shoots him – but by the end we've been taken on a remarkable ride: the apocalyptic finale, and closing freeze-frame, are particularly stunning.

Neil Young
23rd December, 2008
written for 2.Jan.09 edition of Tribune magazine

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA : [8***/10] : USA/Mexico 1974 : Sam PECKINPAH : 112m (BBFC) : seen 25th May 2003, CineSide Newcastle : original review

*** rating upgraded to [9/10] after seeing the film at the Star and Shadow cinema, Newcastle, 21st May 2009 (paid  £4.00)…
   Film works as a sour comedy, a doomed romance, and of course as a multiple-revenge western/thriller – each of these aspects boosting the other, though at times there is some sloppy crossover between each.
   Watching it again (stone-cold sober this time, as opposed to the tequila-enhanced viewing of almost exactly six years ago), it suddenly struck me that perhaps the hapless Alfredo ("you can call me Al") Garcia was perhaps "innocent" all along, and that the kid we see at the end might in fact be a "son of incestuous union" between El Jefe and his spirited daughter (perhaps the most intriguing and underused character in the whole film, especially when she suddenly spits out terminal judgement on her devil-bearded daddy.)
   I was struck also by how impossibly sinister Mexico is made to appear, dazzled by the by the whiteness and size of Warren Oates's teeth, stunned by his sweat-and-muck-encrusted immersion in the role (he's a narrow runner-up behind Mirror's Margarita Terekhova for Best Performance of 1974), and the way his brilliant, aphorism-studded, Jim-Thompson-after-a-bender dialogue sounds at least 60% improv. And how he turns the movie into a jagged portrait of stubborn, dogged, insane persistence (because "nobody loses all the time.")
   Isela Vega as his long-suffering "wife" is quite sweet, but few of the other performers make much of an impact – and having seen Cisco Pike and now this (again), I can only conclude that Kris Kristofferson (at least at this early stage in his thespian career) couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Or rather, out of a fly-crawling, blood-drenched burlap sack. A minor distraction in such a swaggering, disarming, original and thunderously entertaining film – and that final freeze-frame (the nose and barrel of a gun turning into something from the Mexican Day of the Dead) is sheer black magic.