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January 06, 2009

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia — Classic Film Pick

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Fermented in a tragic romanticism placed firmly in a no-man's land between liberation and capitalism, Sam Peckinpah's 1974 thriller is a film that sticks in your mind's eye like a lingering sun spot.

Independently made outside the dulling influence of Hollywood, Warren Oates renders Peckinpah's alter ego as Bennie, an ex-pat piano player working for tips in a Mexican dive bar. The operatic-scaled drama is set in motion when El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez), a ruthless Mexican rancher, discovers that his teenage daughter Theresa is pregnant. El Jefe offers a million dollars for the actual head of the man — El Jefe's would-be successor — that impregnated his already abused daughter. Bennie gets wind of the bounty from a couple of slimy American hitmen (played by Robert Webber and Gig Young), and plots with his prostitute girlfriend Elita (played with gusto by Isela Vega) to take the head of the man who coincidentally made love to Elita before dying in an accident. Although Bennie is unable to confess his love to Elita, their passion is evident in the mutual dream they share for living together once they recover the reward.

Bennie spends the film's second half lugging around Alfredo's severed head in a fly-swarmed canvas bag that can be read as a metaphor for a film canister that Peckinpah would carry to deliver his latest finished product to greedy cigar chomping producers. The scenes of Warren Oates defending himself against the pursuing hit men trying to kill him, are substantial for his character's all-or-nothing attitude to an increasingly virulent condition of corruption closing in from all sides.

"Alfredo Garcia" is an unapologetically cynical film that captures the essence of a dying breed of an American male identity, of which Sam Peckinpah was a card-carrying member. Peckinpah and Oates were men made of hand carved hickory. You know it when you see it.     


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