Midnight Movie: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

I know it’s not as catchy as “Midnight Movie Monday,” but I’m moving this feature to Fridays. I don’t have a reason, but midnight movies are better on Fridays anyway.

one of the few videos on YouTube which doesn’t have spoilers
Yeah, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I started this feature, as the film is entirely lacking in the cheese I typically crave, but it’s got everything else I love about exploitation movies: physical drama, urgent characters, quick women, and tons of senseless, sometimes tragic violence. That and, frankly, I was simply in the mood for Peckinpah.
Look, the weather has me pissed off and I need an outlet. Peckinpah films are good for that.

When the powerful and presumably criminal El Jefe (Emilio Fernández) finds out who impregnated his teenage daughter, he puts a million dollar bounty on the man’s head—literally. Months later, a couple of the tie-wearing goons end up in a rundown bar in Mexico City, asking questions about Garcia. It’s there they meet the American piano player, Bennie (Warren Oats), who plays stupid. He doesn’t know where Garcia is, but he’s got a lead: his prostitute girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega).

Not only does Elita know where Garcia is, she’s been planning on leaving Bennie for him. The thing is, Alfredo Garcia has promised to marry Elita, while Bennie remains reluctant to commit to the woman whose whoring days are likely coming to an end. None of that matters, though: Garcia’s been dead and buried for a few days now. Bennie blows Elita off and, armed with this new information, seeks out the goons in their hotel room. Not knowing just how much it’s actually worth, he agrees to bring them the head of Alfredo Garcia in exchange for ten grand. They agree, giving him a deadline of a few days. They probably don’t have to mention it, but they do anyway: if he runs out on the deal, they’ll hunt him down next.
The night before the journey into Mexican countryside begins, Elita visits Bennie in the middle of the night to make up. In the morning, he’s merrily killing crabs with his bedside booze. Later, he even brings himself to propose marriage, but neither he or Elita seem entirely convinced by his enthusiasm. Nonetheless, he brings her along for the trip, which proves to be a mistake when they run into a couple of motorcycle-riding rapists, one of whom is played by Kris Kristofferson. If there’s anything that illustrates the stark contrast between the gritty realism of 70s and the almost entirely PG-13 rated present, it’s that music/movie stars used to cameo as rapists. Imagine Will Smith or Justin Timberlake doing the same.
My favorite thing about movies like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and crime films in general, is they can take otherwise decent people and put them in potentially soul-altering situations. Bennie, a U.S. Army vet, has no qualms about gunning down the bikers, so it’s not taking a man’s life that threatens his soul. No, it’s the moment he digs Garcia up and looms over the corpse with a machete in hand. I believe that’s what plot-conscious screenwriters refer to as an “inciting incident.” Once he crosses that line, there’s no turning back.
A lot of the talking in the last third of the movie is Bennie justifying his increasingly disturbing decisions to Garcia’s head, which has begun to draw flies as well as stares from the locals. These monologues, as the character unravels, are like something out of an acid western and indicate Warren Oates was a treasure—all the more so when compared to the too-perfect genes of most leading men. (One of my favorite films with Oates is Two-Lane Blacktop, which I’ll eventually get around to putting in this feature.)
The point is, Oates should’ve been the leading man in a more films, which makes Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia a lot more precious. It’s an exciting, unpretentious joyride with a mad man behind the wheel. And if you’re wondering if “mad man” refers to Peckinpah or the hero, I’m not sure. It hits hard and kicks ass. Just what I needed on this dreary, ass-freezing day.

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