Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Kris Kristofferson
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Bennie (Oates) is a piano player in a bar in Mexico who finds out that two men are looking for Alfredo Garcia, a man who has gotten the daughter of a Mexican crime lord pregnant, and there’s a bounty for the man who finds him. When his girlfriend Elita (Vega) tells him that Garcia is dead, he makes her take him to find the resting place of the man to get the head himself. But, of course, it’s not that simple.
1001 movies states this film is “obviously the work of an alcoholic genius”. Which makes me laugh. It is an odd duck. The story goes that Sam Peckinpah, known for making blood thirsty films, felt hemmed in by censorship, and decided to make this film about men who are sent out to hunt a man down, but the twist is that he’s already dead. The film really tanked when it came out, people didn’t flock to see it and people didn’t love it. But over the years, many people have changed their mind, and it’s become a classic.
The film opens with a really young pregnant girl being tortured and shamed in order for her to give the name of her lover up to her father, who is clearly a big bad man, and played by Emilio Fernandez, who was the villain in The Wild Bunch (also a Peckinpah film). Two men head out to find Alfredo Garcia. But it takes us a while to actually meet our hero and heroine. I think this might have put people off.
When we do meet them, it seems pretty obvious that they’re biting off more than they can chew by getting involved with the whole sordid deal of Alfredo Garcia’s head and the price on it. Bennie comes across as a bully, forcing Alita to go along with him and not really all that squeamish about digging up a body to get the head. Alita is pretty casual about the fact that she sleeps around. They head out in to a dusty crumbling world, never made to look beautiful, always bleak and dry. And then all the bad things happen. I don’t want to tell you too much, but it doesn’t go well for them. And then there’s a big shoot out at the end.
The message is bleak, some even say nihilistic. Everything is not only hopeless in the world of this film, but inevitably dark and horrible too. Fathers don’t love their daughters, men don’t fall in love with their girlfriends, at least not until it’s too late.. But that’s Sam Peckinpah really. And since this film is the only one that was released exactly as he wanted it to be seen, with no cuts or changes, it’s perhaps him at his purest.
See It If: you’re either going to love or hate this film. If you think the premise is interesting and you like other Peckinpah films, you’ll like this. Otherwise, see something else.