Sam Peckinpah said, “For me, Hollywood no longer exists. It’s past history. I’ve decided to stay in Mexico because I believe I can make my pictures with greater freedom from here.”
With the exception of a few key people, Peckinpah made this movie with a Mexican crew, including camerman Alex Phillips, Jr., who hared wide-angle lenses, loved zooms and who created a multiple camera setup that allowed Peckinpah to basically edit the film in his head as he shot.
It also allowed him lots of creative freedom and to capture the bleak world that he wanted. Shooting at a bar called the Tlaquepaque, he said out loud that this place was real. It was — the owner had once killed a woman on the premises and bribed the right people to make it go away.
And the results, sure, they ended up in the Medved co-authored The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time, but Roger Ebert said, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is Sam Peckinpah making movies flat out, giving us a desperate character he clearly loves, and asking us to somehow see past the horror and the blood to the sad poem he’s trying to write about the human condition.”
Who is Garcia? He was once the man selected to be the successor for El Jefe (Emilio Fernández), but he messed up when he knocked up the boss’ daughter Teresa, putting a million dollar bounty on his head. Two months pass before two hit men, Sappensly (Robert Webber) and Quill (Gig Young), walk into the saloon where Bennie (Warren Oates) plays piano.
He claimns he doesn’t know who Garcia is yet he surely does. He’s the man who his lover Elita (Isela Vega) cheated on him with. He confronts her as to the man’s whereabouts and learns that he died in an accident. Easy money — he gets $10,000 for Garcia’s head, plus a $200 advance for expenses, and takes Elita along with him to dig the grave. On the way, he proposes to her, telling her that she can retire and they can live in peace, but we know that can never happen as the moment they get there, they’re attacked by bikers (Kris Kristofferson and Donnie Fritts) who nearly assault her before Bernie comes to and dispatches them both. As he starts digging the grave, against the protests of Elita, he’s knocked out. He wakes up buried alive with his girl dead by his side, the body of Garcia already missing its head. Oates took mushrooms before this scene, so he’s really living this experience.
Arguing with the head, which has been packed in a sack with dry ice, Bennie leads a death march across Mexico, with everyone in his way dying, death always at his side, waiting for him, as he begins to realize that the head means nothing at all to him or anyone else. The money was meaningless. The revenge doesn’t matter. Yet he must follow through.
Warren Oates copied Peckinpah to play his part, right down to borrowing a pair of sunglasses from the director. And this was the only time that the maverick creator ever got final cut on one of his movies. The twosome also bonded over cocaine, which only added to the air of paranoia and doom that fills every single second of this movie.
I can see why some would dislike and even hate this movie, but for me, it just plain sings. The song may be abrasive, it may be filled with anger, but it’s a song nonetheless.