By Steve D. Stones
“There ain’t nothing sacred about a hole in the ground or the man that’s in it.” – Bennie (Warren Oates)
It’s unfortunate that director Sam Peckinpah’s 1974 film – Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia never found an audience at the time it was released, and did not impress most film critics. The film has aged well and developed more respect from viewers and film critics over the decades.
The film opens with a serene sequence of a young girl caressing her pregnant belly at the shore of a pond. She is brought before her father – El Jefe, who is a rich Mexican land baron. El Jefe demands to know who the father of the baby is. The girl is tortured and raped in front of her family as she reveals the name of Alfredo Garcia as the father. El Jefe literally puts a price on Garcia’s head by offering a million dollars to anyone who can bring his head.
Two hit men working for the head of an American business cartel are set on the trail of Garcia. They cross paths with Bennie - a washed up piano player working at a bar for drinks and tip money, played brilliantly by Warren Oates. Bennie tells the two hit men that he will keep an eye out for Garcia. He is offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for Garcia’s head. Bennie’s prostitute lover Elita, played by beautiful Isela Vega, informs him that Garcia was killed in a car accident.
Bennie sees Garcia’s death as an ace in the hole. He figures all he has to do is locate where Garcia is buried, decapitate his corpse at the grave, and bring the head to the two hit men that approached him at the bar. This task proves not to be so easy, as the viewer soon discovers.
As Bennie and Elita drive across the desolate Mexican landscape, they are followed by two more hit men. The two also want the head of Alfredo Garcia. Bennie locates the grave and attempts to decapitate Garcia’s head. He is hit in the head with a shovel and knocked out.
Several hours later, Bennie wakes up partially buried in Garcia’s grave with Elita at his side. The two hit men following Bennie have killed Elita and taken the head of Garcia. Bennie leaves Elita’s corpse in the grave, but cries for her passing. Just before he leaves the grave, a close-up shot reveals Bennie putting his head back into the grave as the rest of his body is above ground. This shot is symbolic of Bennie losing his head emotionally, and alludes to his inevitable death.
Bennie soon encounters the two hit men changing a flat tire on a deserted road with the head of Garcia. Like many Peckinpah films, a gun battle occurs with slow motion sequences of the two hit men being shot as their bodies fly through the air in reaction to the impact of the bullet wounds. This is a stylistic trait that Peckinpah also employed in his 1968 western masterpiece – The Wild Bunch
Bennie is able to retrieve Garcia’s head in a burlap sack from the two hit men he kills, but has to drive across miles of rough Mexican terrain to get it back to his place. He swats away dozens of flies from Garcia’s head while driving and drinking tequila. He talks to Garcia’s head as if he is still alive. “Here, have a drink Al!” he says as he pours tequila over the head, driving recklessly down the road.
Many sources state that Oates’ character of Bennie is based on director Peckinpah. Oates even dresses like Peckinpah in shades, a sport jacket and loafer shoes. His clothes and the bag carrying the head become more and more soiled as the film progresses. This makes the viewer less and less sympathetic to Bennie’s character.
At one point in the film, a bounty killer labels Bennie a loser. He responds to the man by saying “Nobody loses all the time.” That sentiment proves not to be true as the film draws to an end.
Bennie confronts El Jefe and wants to know why Garcia’s head is so important to him. He will not give an answer, but insists that Bennie take a briefcase of one million dollars and leave. Bennie is still mourning the loss of Elita, blaming El Jefe for his loss. He shoots El Jefe at the request of his grand-daughter and slaughters all the body guards in the room.
As Bennie plows through the gates of El Jefe’s compound, he is gunned down by more hit men. Bennie has indeed lost for the very last time. A close-up of a smoking machine gun barrel fills the screen.