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BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gil Young, Kris Kristofferson
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: March 8, 2005

"You guys are definitely on my s**t list."

Film ***1/2

Before there was an Oliver Stone or a Quentin Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah represented the darker and more twisted aspect of American cinema. Prior to his 1969 masterpiece, The Wild Bunch, cinematic violence was virtually unheard of, at least the manner in which Peckinpah displayed it. Like all true great filmmakers, his films were both acclaimed and reviled, as one would be hard pressed to come across a film from him which was either conventional or happy.

For the filmmaker himself, his career pinnacle came with the release of 1974's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It was, and still is, Peckinpah's most personal film release to date. He made it for almost no money, feeling that this was an artistic vision that he simply had to make. The film didn't get received well by most when released, despite a rave four star from Roger Ebert, but like many misunderstood films has earned a high level of respect in its 31 years of existence.

This is perhaps Peckinpah's most startling vision of the most twisted side of the human soul. The story opens on a ranch in Mexico, where a rich, and outraged, crimelord is demanding that his newly pregnant daughter reveal the name of the father of the unborn child. An act of torture enforced on the young woman results in the exclamation of the name Alfredo Garcia.

This comes as a shock to the crimelord, who as it turns out was a close friend of Garcia's, and even considered him to be something of a brother. Nevertheless, he quickly puts out the word that he'll pay a million dollars to whomever brings him the head of Alfredo Garcia. A worldwide manhunt is ignited the minute following the announcing of the bargain.

Two representatives of the angered father come across a lowlife bartender named Bernie (Warren Oates) in a Mexican par. He is an obvious lowlife, who serves drinks and does some occasional piano playing. He accepts the job offer, not just for the huge reward, but because his girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), used to be involved with the womanizing Alfredo.

What follows is a road journey of the most unusual nature. Bernie and Elita waste no time in tracking down Alfredo Garcia, lobbing off the head with no hesitation, and enjoying a peaceful life together. But things take a nasty turn almost immediately, as the two cross paths with a pair of sadistic hoodlums, one of whom is played by Kris Kristofferson.

Another unexpected development is the revelation that Alfredo Garcia is in fact already dead. The body is buried in the ground resulting from a drunk driving accident. Nevertheless, since the man who ordered the hit doesn't know this, Bernie proceeds with the given order and digs the body up to remove the requested asset.

The last half of the film is the most startling and riveting segment. Like most Peckinpah films, you can see that things are building to a not so happy finish. Once Bernie gets a hold of the head, which is never seen but is kept noticeably in a burlap bag. Bernie, slowly losing his mind and drinking himself into oblivion, begins talking to the head, referring to it as Al.

With a title like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, no other film has conveyed its tone in a more suiting manner. It's a most poetic piece by Peckinpah, who was one of few filmmakers who could craft effective material which consisted of unlikable characters doing despicable things. No other film of his has illustrated that notion better than this.

Video ***1/2

MGM has delivered one of the finest presentations of any 70s film I've seen on DVD. The image quality is consistently clear and crisp for nearly the entire film, and given the film's age that's saying a lot. The dust-laden Mexican setting is richly delivered in this nicely detailed delivery. They're aren't really any major flaws in the production, say for a slight hint of softness, which is very very brief. Most nicely done.

Audio **1/2

The Dolby Mono track offers just about all that it can. The quality is actually much better than I expected. Dialogue delivery is terrifically heard, while random gunfire, despite dated sound effects, sounds as good as it can get. Not bad...just don't be expecting a lot of bite.

Features **

Included on this disc is a theatrical trailer and a well rounded and most informative commentary track by Peckinpah Scholars Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Wedlle with moderator Nick Redman.

Summary:

There's no question that like many of Sam Peckinpah's films, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was a film much ahead of its time. It makes a tremendous arrival of DVD in terms of look and sound. If you have never had to opportunity to see this film, you really should consider discovering this masterful piece of work.

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