Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974): Peckinpah’s Abusrdist Western Satire, Starring Warren Oates

Made in Mexico on a low budget (about $1.5 million) after the failure of Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was one of the few films that Peckinpah himself considered coherent with his artistic intent.

Co-written by Peckinpah and Gordon Dawson, based on a story by Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, it’s a modernist-absurdist action-Western, which unfolds as a crazily unpredicted road movie.

Made in Mexico on a low budget, after the commercial failure of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Alfredo García was one of the few films that Peckinpah himself liked and considered coherent.

This film, too, was initially a critical and commercial failure, but over the years, has gained some following among young critics and Peckinpah fans.  They reinterpreted the saga as a metaphysical tale about the self-destructive and inherently contradictory nature of men.

The tale begins with a powerful Mexican crime lord known as “El Jefe” (“The Boss”), interrogating his pregnant teenage daughter Teresa about the identity of the father of her unborn child. Under torture, she identifies the father as Alfredo Garcia, and the infuriated El Jefe offers a $1 million bounty to the man who will “bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia”.

In Mexico City, two hit men, Sappensly (Robert Webber) and Quill (Gig Young), encounter Bennie (Warren Oates), a retired U.S. army officer who’s now reduced to making a living as piano player and bar manager. But Bennie plays dumb, saying the name is familiar but he doesn’t know who Garcia is. Bennie’s girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), a motel maid, then admits to having sex with Garcia, adding that Garcia had died in a drunk-driving accident.

Bennie makes a deal for $10,000 for Garcia’s head, and takes Elita with him on a road trip to visit Garcia’s grave.  Accosted by two violent bikers, Elita agrees to have sex with them if they spare Bennie’s life, then goes off with one of them (Kris Kristofferson). Bennie shoots him dead and kills the second biker as well.

When Bennie confesses to Elita his plan to decapitate Garcia’s corpse and sell the head, she begs him to give up this crazy quest and return to Mexico City, but Bennie refuses. Upon finding Garcia’s grave, Bennie is struck by unseen assailant. He wakes up to find Elita dead, Garcia’s corpse decapitated.

In the end, Teresa, now a mom, urges Bennie to kill her father. Bennie obliges, taking along Garcia’s head while stating: “You take care of the boy, and I’ll take care of the father.”

Bennie drives away, only to be killed by El Jefe’s men.

The ever-underrated Warren Oates, in one of his richest and most iconic roles, carries the whole movie on his solid shoulders;