Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
With: Warrren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young, Robert Webber, Kris Kristofferson
Written by: Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson, from a story by Sam Peckinpah, Frank Kowalski
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 112
Date: 08/13/1974

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Noggin Hill

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mostly everyone hated this dreamy, dreary Sam Peckinpah film when it opened in 1974, but it has aged very well and has slowly emerged as a classic -- one of the director's best films. Warren Oates stars as an American piano player stuck in rural Mexico. He hears about a large bounty on the head of Alfredo Garcia, a man who impregnated a wealthy landowner's daughter. He hits the road with his girlfriend (Isela Vega), but his trip soon turns into a murderous and nightmarishly personal odyssey. Oates winds up driving around with the head in a burlap bag swarming with flies, and talking to it (referring to it as "Al") as if it were the only soul in the world he can trust.

One of the movie's most memorable scenes takes place early on, at a picnic between Oates and Vega. They talk about marriage and the future, and it's one of Peckinpah's most romantic moments, rare for a director many considered a misogynist. The scene stands out more so during the film's second half, and at the same time, helps drive the desperation ever so much deeper. The film's ever-increasing violence hits much harder here than it did in Peckinpah's earlier The Wild Bunch. When someone dies in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, it means something, and when someone is spared, it breaks the heart. Oates' antihero is among the loneliest men in the cinema, and one of its greatest performances.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has long been available only on import tapes, laserdiscs and DVDs, which has probably added to its cult appeal. MGM/UA presents its first official United States release with a clean transfer, getting a crisp image without forsaking any of Peckinpah's grimy imagery. Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle (and moderator Nick Redman) team up for a commentary track. (This same crew also did a track for Anchor Bay's excellent The Osterman Weekend DVD.) The disc also comes with the theatrical trailer.

It looks as if the aforementioned 2005 DVD release is out of print (expensive copies are available), but Kino Lorber has re-issued the movie in new DVD for 2017. (A Blu-ray edition was released in the United States recently, but by a different company.) I'm not exactly sure if this is the same transfer used for the MGM release, but it still looks quite good. It includes the same commentary track and a trailer, plus trailers for four other films including Peckinpah's Convoy. Optional subtitles are also included. In 2021, Kino Lorber followed up with a great Blu-ray edition, including the aforementioned commentary track and another archival one, by co-writer/co-producer Gordon Dawson, moderated by Nick Redman. We also get a "Trailers from Hell" episode, a trailer, a TV spot, and an image gallery.

Movies Unlimtied