Author’s Note: Mad spoilers. There is just too much to write about with this movie.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Well, this is a first for Fermented Film, the author is actually reviewing a good movie. Not a drinking good movie, but like, a good movie. “Bring Me the Head...” is an unlikely classic. Sam Peckinpah’s severely dark, seemingly nihilistic tale of greed, lust, revenge and hatred. For some reason today I wasn’t in the mood for the usual goofy fare that I watch while having a few and I decided to revisit this film. Maybe it was the recent article about Sam Peckinpah in the Boston Phoenix but I doubt it. The Phoenix hasn’t expressed interest in publishing this column, so I don’t find it fit for birdcage liner. Bastards.
I decided to keep it simple and drink a few Molson Goldens while viewing. Molson Golden is a solid green bottle beer, if you like that kind of thing. Its also a surprisingly heavy beer, more filling than other green bottles like Heineken and Stella. Taste is definitely decent enough, and it takes a long time to drink a six pack of them, which makes it a good work night beer. Its not like the deceptively harmless Bud Light or PBR, where you can suck down six of them without noticing. This beer’s heavy body makes you take your time. Turned out to be a good choice because you actually have to use your mind to watch this film.
The film opens with a horrifying scene featuring a young pregnant girl being tortured by her parents to give the name of the man who impregnated her. Alfredo of the title is the father of her kid, and her father offers 1 million dollars to whoever brings him his head. Hence the title.
We first meet Warren Oates as Benny, the extremely unlikely protagonist, playing piano in a bar where men punch hookers out cold and no one bats an eyelash. This isn’t a wacky slapstick “Three Amigos” style Mexican bar, though. This is a dark place where money is god.
Two gringo hit men are looking for Alfredo Garcia and they ask Benny for information. He is able to figure out that Alfredo is worth tons of money, dead. He gets drunk and goes to find his girlfriend, who is the beautiful Isela Vega playing a hooker. He yells at her, threatens her and asks her where Alfredo is, apparently she had just cheated on Benny with Alfredo. While interrogating her he orders a “double bourbon with a champaign back”!!! Nasty. She tells him that Alfredo has just died in a motorcycle accident.
The relationship between Isela and Oates is very disturbing, intense and surprisingly realistic and intelligent. Peckinpah has been accused of being a nihilist, a sexist, a drunk bastard and worse, but his handling of this fucked up abusive relationship is so damn spot on that it makes me think that he knew the material all too well. Not to accuse him of anything, but this is one of the most scarily accurate abusive relationships I’ve ever seen in a film. No soap opera bullshit here. This is Masters in Psychology shit here. And it never flinches. The morning after their first tryst that we witness in the film, Oates finds he has crabs and pours tequila on his package. He says “Wake up, change the sheets, I got a new job!”
The scenes with Isela and Oates are very compelling. This film is so dark that love is shown as a scary thing, a weakness, a place where losers try to hide inside one another.
Oates and Isela travel to the countryside to find Alfredo’s grave. There are many great scenes with Oates and Isela cruising through the Mexican countryside with some criminals trailing them. Everyone is drinking and driving and singing. Oates and Isela run into a couple of dirt bag gringo bikers, one of whom is played by a young Kris Kristofferson. What follows is horrifying, a nightmarish rape scenario where the bikers take Oates and Isela hostage and intend to have their way with Isela. There is a disturbing bent to it, as well, where Isela winds up begging Kris to rape her. This is could be seen as either a comment on the nature of abuse, and the behavior of abused people. Or it could be seen as flat out misogyny, the idea that women secretly want to be raped. Either way, its a goddamn king hell of a disturbing scene.
The next day they are driving away from the hell behind them and Isela is crying about having to help Oates dig up her past lover and take his souvenir. He says “There’s nothin’ sacred about a hole in the ground...or the man in it....or you....or me!”
Damn. Some of Peckinpah’s legendary nihilism bleeding through.
Their relationship continues to be creepy, with her being aroused by his increasingly insane, abusive behavior.
Once they finally find Alfredo’s grave, they are greeted by a funeral procession carrying a tiny casket. A baby’s funeral. Could this film get any darker? Yep. And it does.
They dig up Alfredo’s grave and are ambushed as Oates is about to cut the head off the body. When Oates comes to, he
is covered in dirt in the grave with Isela and headless Alfredo. Isela is dead. He screams at her and tries to flip her over so that she and Alfredo can “Do it the right way!” JEEEEEsus. It seems like she is a sacrifice for the head and the money it is worth.
It is apparent in the ensuing scenes that the already insane Oates has become completely unhinged. He pulls his gun out while asking some villagers if they had seen the criminals who had been trailing him. He screams “Look at me with your goddamn fuckin eyes!”
He finds the criminals and kills them. While one is looking at him with questioning eyes he says “Why? Because it feels so goddamn good!” then shoots him some more.
Oates grabs the head and starts the long road back to his money with his new traveling buddy, Alfredo. He starts talking to the head, which is in a burlap bag, always shown with flies buzzing around it. He asks the head why it is worth so much; “You got jewels up your ears? Diamonds up your nose?” The next reel of the film concerns Oates’ descent into madness, and the scenes are slow, but very creepy. Oates is an excellent actor, and this film is his tour de force. I guess he was a mad man in real life and drank and drugged himself to a young death at 54. Not that young, but his talents never diminished, he was great right to the end.
One of my only gripes with the film is that the lighting is extremely bright, giving everything a 70s T-Show look. This might have been done on purpose, to juxtapose the extremely dark subject matter with a plastic fantasy look. There is a great image of a rich scum bag gringo criminal contentedly getting a foot bath from a Mexican hooker while reading an issue of Time magazine with a big picture of Nixon’s face on the cover.
If you haven’t seen the film, I feel like I can leave the review here, because the end is excellent and shouldn’t be revealed in this wide open space. All I can say is that Oates redeems himself and the first thing you will say as the credits roll is “Damn!” This film is definitely not for everyone, but I highly recommend it for you thinking drunkards. A good one to watch alone.