Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, along with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, is a serious contender for the greatest movie title of all time. Regarded now as Peckinpah’s last great movie, and the one on which he had most artistic freedom, Alfredo Garcia was pretty universally loathed upon its release and did Peckinpah’s career, which was faltering in financial terms by this point, little good.
At turns violent, squalid, shocking, depressing, bleakly amusing and disconcertingly cool, Alfredo Garcia is, in many respects, the quintessential Peckinpah movie. Filled with the usual Peckinpah tropes, it’s the story of washed-up ex US army man Bennie (a fantastically bedraggled Warren Oates) hot-footing across the Mexican countryside to retrieve the head of the recently deceased Senior Garcia. Garcia has impregnated the daughter of a crime boss and now has a $1 million bounty on his head – literally his head and nothing more. Learning from his girlfriend (a regular Garcia shag) that he has already died in a car crash, Bennie spies the chance to make some money quickly and goes to fetch the dead man’s head and escape his shambolic life of drudgery playing piano in a rough bar.
Oates, whose performance channels a late-career Peckinpah struggling with alcoholism and paranoia, is superb as a disheveled everyman. The narrative occasionally feels lacklustre, but it’s presented with such a runaway sense of chaos that it retains a sense a frenzied enjoyment all the way through, a typically problematic rape sequence notwithstanding.
As usual with Arrow’s handsome blu-ray releases, the wealth of special features makes this an easy buy. An audio commentary with Savage Cinema author Stephen Prince feels a little stilted in its delivery; more like an audio essay rather than a fan riffing on Peckinpah’s work; but an additional commentary by scholars: Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle and Nick Redman is a gem and full of good insight into Peckinpah’s character and the making of movie. It contains fascinating moments of trivia and anecdotes: such as the story of Peckinpah literally pissing on a studio or the revelation that the early “arm breaking” scene’s quick cut to a wide shot of the villa was a result of editor Garth Craven’s squeamishness.
The set also contains interesting interviews and the intriguing, if a little long, documentary: Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron, discussing the director’s talent as well as his flaws; particularly his obsession with violence, his questionable attitude to women and how his experiences in the armed forces helped shape his jaded and cynical outlook.
| Chris Banks
Action, Crime | USA, 1974 | 18 | 23rd January 2017 (UK) | Arrow Video | Dir.Sam Peckinpah | Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young, Robert Webber, Helmut Dantine | Buy: [Blu-ray]