Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"For something so bleak, so purposely revolting and unsentimental, there are reservoirs of profound poetry in Alfredo Garcia, the only film that Peckinpah ever considered completely his own."

Slant Magazine

Well, I don't know about those reservoirs of profound poetry, but there is plenty of truly twisted shit - and that's what's really important. As you watch this movie, you'll quickly be able to establish a rule of thumb: if there is a woman on screen, it is only a matter of a minute or so before she is raped or beaten.

The film begins with a powerful and evil Mexican landowner confronting his pregnant daughter about the identity of the baby's father. She won't sing, so he has her stripped in front of the servants and neighbors. She still won't sing, so he starts breaking her fingers until somebody finally starts singin' like a canary.

Having secured the identity of Alfredo Garcia, a noted lothario, Evil Papa Landowner turns to the vast crowd he has assembled for his daughter's humiliation and announces that he will give a million dollars for the head of Alfredo Garcia, presumably detached from the rest of Alfredo's body. This offer causes a sudden and rapid outflow of vehicles from the hacienda, as various competing parties dash to the airports and take to the streets of the towns in a race to be the first to find the young rake.

The competition basically boils down to two teams. One is a couple of sweaty, slimy, greasy guys in cheap suits and an old jalopy. The other is a massive corporate para-military organization with luxurious offices populated by guys who wear Armani suits while being fed grapes by slave girls. The lead detectives for the sybaritic latter day Pinkertons are two very swishy bounty hunters played by Gig Young and Robert Webber. I guess Noel Coward and Cole Porter were busy. Let's just say these guys put the pink back into Pinkerton, but they are two bad-tempered and ornery sissies. At one point, Webber is sitting in a bar when a prostitute starts to rub his crotch. He elbows her in the face and leaves her lying unconscious on the barroom floor.

The slick corporate suits are having no luck tracking down their million dollar prey until they stumble into a touristy cantina and strike up a conversation with an American (Warren Oates) who plays and sings at the piano bar. That's right, it's Warren Oates as a lounge pianist, probably the worst lounge pianist ever. He is pretty cool, however. I think you have to admire the cinematic sangfroid of a guy who doesn't take off his sunglasses to sleep or make love! (Pictured to right.)

Moreover, although ol' Warren can't sing for shit, he does know a thing or two about Alfredo Garcia, because when Big Al wasn't seducing landowners' daughters, he was busy seducing Warren's girlfriend. Ol' Warren figures it's a helluva deal to kill his romantic rival and also get paid for it, so he cuts a deal to bring Al's head to the flaming bounty hunters. Not knowing the real value of the head, Warren is thrilled with the $10,000 he is offered for the job.

And then things get complicated.

First of all, Warren finds out from his girlfriend that there will be no need to kill Al, since the rural Casanova recently died in an auto crash, and has already been buried. Warren figures that's even better, because it's much easier to cut the head off a dead body than a live one, so he and his crab-infested girlfriend make a long road trip in their beat-up car through the dirt roads of rural Mexico to the remote cemetery. Along the way, they sing, drink and shoot livestock. Warren finds out that there are some significant obstacles in his path to the head of Alfredo Garcia:

  • Remember the two pasty, greasy guys in the stained suits? They haven't given up.
  • There are some violent rapist bikers out in the countryside.
  • Al's family is really not pleased with the whole grave-robbing thing.
  • The two poofy Pinkertons are still out there guarding their investment.

In the course of the adventure, Warren loses his girlfriend and ends up in a permanent drunken stupor, his only friend a fly-encrusted, decomposing hunk of human flesh with which he maintains a running conversation, their relationship a violent trailer-trash echo of Tom Hanks and Wilson the Volleyball.

Well, I guess I'm not spoiling it too much to say that the adventure finally ends up with Warren face-to-face with Seņor Evil Landowner. Warren carries the decaying head, and Evil Dude carries a suitcase filled with a million dollars. Warren is in the hacienda alone, and Evil Dude is guarded by a bunch of guys that look like the extras from Viva Zapata! You just know it's gonna be ugly.

Despite the paeans written to Peckinpah in recent times, I have to tell you that this film has a lot of problems. There are great scenes, memorable scenes, but there are some scenes that just drag on interminably and accomplish nothing. The biker sequence is completely unrelated to the rest of the film. As if that weren't a big enough problem, Kris Kristofferson dyed his hair black to play a Mexican biker named Paco! (Such a transformation. And you think DeNiro was impressive as Jake LaMotta!) That entire section should really have been be cut to make the film move forward better. Some of the scenes with Oates and his girlfriend, like the one of them picnicking in the countryside, were necessary to establish the genuine tenderness between them, but dragged on and on and on, to a point where I was fast-forwarding until the plot re-started.

The only thing that really distinguishes this film from an exercise in mindless violence is the Warren Oates character. He starts out as a total washout, a guy willing to do anything for a buck, and in the course of the film discovers that he does believe in something. First he finds that he really loves his girlfriend, then he is driven to despair when she dies, and then he is driven to exact his private concept of justice for her death. When he gets a chance to take the million dollars and walk out scot-free, he remembers all the people who died for the head, including his girlfriend, and he explodes in a paroxysm of righteous rage and revenge, money be damned. Peckinpah's script and Oates's performance do manage to achieve something truly remarkable. Although Warren is every bit as big a slimebucket as his rivals, and a less competent one to boot, the audience manages to bond with him, root for him, and even admire the integrity he achieves in his own low-rent way. He is a genuine anti-hero far distanced from the glamorized surrogates that came out of Hollywood before him. Bogart's Rick, for example, is a man whose exterior provides only a thin veneer of callousness over his idealistic principles, a guy who is not really an anti-hero at all, but simply a real hero waiting to cast off his secret identity. Rick is a man we can love and admire. We would like him for a friend. That's not how Peckinpah viewed anti-heroes.  Breaking sharply from the sentimental cinematic tradition, the Oates character is a true anti-hero. We surely don't want him for a friend. We don't even want to meet him, especially in close quarters. The movie screen allows us to see and hear him without smelling him, and that's as close as we ever want to get. We know he would exude a foul smell of alcohol, medical neglect, and careless hygiene. If we saw this man walking toward us, we'd cross the street to avoid him. If we saw him walking down the bus aisle and we had an empty seat beside us, we'd move, just in case.

There is no way we could possibly root for such a guy.

Yet we do.

Credit Peckinpah's unique genius for that dubious but astoundingly powerful achievement.

(With an assist to Oates, of course.)



  • Audio Commentary by Sam Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle, with moderator Nick Redman
  • widescreen anamorphic (16x9)



  • Janine Maldonado is seen topless in the opening sequence.
  • Isela Vega is seen topless in several scenes, and also supplies rear nudity on one of them.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • It was made for $1.5 million and grossed $2.2 million.

Miscellaneous ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Peckinpah was modern in some ways, but not in terms of pacing. This film is too slow-moving to have mainstream appeal, even for the generation jaded by Tarantinoesque violence levels, but it is the classic Peckinpah film, the only one where he had final cut and delivered exactly what came out of his misanthropic heart. If you want to see where Tarantino got his inspiration, here's your opportunity.

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