Release Date(s)1974 (October 6, 2023)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Imprint Films/Via Vision Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A+
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review was originally written by Dr. Adam Jahnke. The coverage of the extras and A/V quality is by Tim Salmons.]
It’s been almost thirty years since Sam Peckinpah died but he remains one of the most divisive and discussed filmmakers of the late 20th century. He’s one of those directors whose name is synonymous with a very specific type of movie. But relatively few of his films received universal acclaim, especially at the time of their release. The typical journey for a Peckinpah film is a long, slow climb toward building an avid, vocal cult following.
Even members of the Peckinpah Fan Club can’t seem to agree on which of his works to rally behind. You can probably tell something about a person based on which Peckinpah movie they cite as their favorite: the elegiac The Ballad of Cable Hogue, the dark and violent Straw Dogs, the flawed but ambitious Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, or, as in my case, the bleak, bizarre Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
The great Warren Oates has one of the few leading roles of his career as Bennie, a hard-luck musician working in a dive bar in Mexico. A pair of underworld enforcers (Robert Webber and Gig Young) turn up looking for Alfredo Garcia. Al knocked up their boss’ daughter and El Jefe has offered a million dollar bounty on him... or at least his head. Al was also involved with a prostitute (Isela Vega) that Bennie has a relationship with, so Bennie picks her up and they embark on a road trip to find Al’s grave to collect his head.
Needless to say, this isn’t the most plot-heavy film ever made. It’s full of rambling digressions and whatever enjoyment you get out of it will depend in large part on your willingness to go with the flow. Its greatness lies in its attention to detail, vivid characterization, and stunning performances. Oates and Vega are wonderful together. These characters had a relationship before the movie and Peckinpah, Oates, and Vega allow that relationship to unfold organically. We don’t need to be told exactly what’s happened between these two. We see it and feel it intrinsically. Oates delivers a magnificent performance and this is probably the quintessential Warren Oates movie. Bennie is something of a wreck when we first meet him and he gets both better and worse the closer he gets to the finish line. It’s a balancing act few actors could pull off but Oates makes it look easy.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was shot by director of photography Alex Phillips, Jr. on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Imprint Films releases the film on Blu-ray for the eighth time (worldwide) in a deluxe Limited Edition boxed set. Despite what the packaging states, this release does not contain the 2017 Arrow Video restoration that was later included on Kino Lorber’s 2021 Blu-ray release—though only after a disc manufacturing error was corrected when they accidentally included the wrong master. The master found here was also included on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray in 2014. This means that it’s a much older and much less organic presentation, replete with a muddy to non-existent grain structure, uneven color temperatures and contrast, and frequent scratches and speckling. It was fine for its time, but in 2023, not so much. Even the high bitrate and extra disc space can’t improve upon it. Whether this was an error on Imprint’s part is unclear, but for now, the Arrow and Kino releases continue to showcase the best and most recently restored presentation of the film available. Here’s hoping that since next year Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, perhaps a 4K UHD release with a brand new restoration from the original camera negative will materialize. Time will only tell.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. This is an exclusive as all previous releases included DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and there isn’t really much of a difference sonically. Dialogue exchanges are healthy and sound effects are relatively canned outside of ambient activity, but Jerry Fielding’s score offers the soundtrack’s boldest attribute. The overall track is fairly narrow, but clean without any leftover damage to speak of.
The Imprint Films 2-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray release of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is presented in two separate separate clear amaray cases, one containing the film with extras, and the other containing a documentary and additional extras. The case containing the film features an insert with cover art sourced from one of the film’s theatrical posters (and has more or less been a mainstay on US Blu-ray releases of the film). Everything is housed in a sturdy cardboard slipcase featuring artwork sourced from the film’s German poster. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA
- Isolated Score Track by Jerry Fielding
- Audio Commentary by Mike Siegel
- Audio Commentary by Gordon Dawson and Nick Redman
- Audio Commentary by Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman
- Audio Commentary by Paul Seydor, Katy Haber, and Nick Redman
- Passion & Poetry: Sam’s Favorite Film (SD – 55:39)
- A Writer’s Journey with Sam Peckinpah in Mexico (SD – 26:01)
- Passion & Poetry in Locarno: Katy Haber on Alfredo Garcia (SD – 13:21)
- Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Sam Peckinpah’s Last Chance (HD – 27:24)
- Animated Galleries:
- Promoting Alfredo Garcia (HD – 5:58)
- Filming Alfredo Garcia (HD – 15:45)
- Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:58)
- US TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 6 in all – 4:35)
DISC TWO: PASSION & POETRY: THE BALLAD OF SAM PECKINPAH
- Audio Commentary by Mike Siegel
- Stories on a Storyteller (with a Play All option)
- Part 1: The Westerner (HD – 29:36)
- Part 2: Art and Success (HD – 36:38)
- Part 3: Poet on the Loose (HD – 38:37)
- Mike’s Home Movies: Behind the Scenes, Retrospectives & Festivals (HD – 14:08)
- The Passion & the Poetry Project: Mike Siegel and His Works on Sam Peckinpah (SD – 43:35)
- Passion & Poetry with Peckinpah in Portugal (SD – 23:27)
- Passion & Poetry Restoration Comparison (HD – 2:32)
- Trailer (HD – 3:30)
After an isolated score track, which has been missing in action since the Twilight Time Blu-ray, you get no less than four audio commentaries for this release. The first features filmmaker and Peckinpah scholar Mike Siegel, who is also responsible for much of the bonus content on this release. Note that while he’s a native German and self-confesses to a lack of polish on the English language, he does himself a disservice. He provides a very detail-oriented track that is perfectly legible and quite interesting. The second commentary with the late, great producer and filmmaker Nick Redman and co-writer/associate producer Gordon Dawson is a real treat, with Dawson sharing some great stories from his long association with Sam Peckinpah. The third commentary features film historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle, moderated once again by Nick Redman. It’s well worth a listen as it provides plenty of background information, as well as an analysis of the film. Hearing the group grapple with some of the more difficult sequences, such as the brief but unforgettable appearance by Kris Kristofferson, is particularly enjoyable. The fourth and final audio commentary features Seydor and assistant to the director Katy Haber, again moderated by Nick Redman. This track was also an exclusive to the Encore Edition Blu-ray released by Twilight Time, and hasn’t been available anywhere since. It’s yet another essential track, and I’m thankful that it’s been repurposed here.
The rest of the material consists of a several featurettes and documentaries. Passion & Poetry speaks to a number of Sam Peckinpah collaborators about their memories of him and the films he made. A Writer’s Journey speaks to writer Garner Simmons more thoroughly about working with Peckinpah. Passion & Poetry in Locarno features an interview with frequent Peckinpah collaborator Katy Haber, conducted by journalist and film historian Fernando Ganzo at the 2015 Festival del film Locarno in Switzerland. Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man is a new video essay on Sam Peckinpah and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia by film writer Travis Woods. Promoting Alfredo Garcia is a slideshow of various posters, lobby cards, and other promotional materials for the film. Filming Alfredo Garcia combines two separate slideshow galleries: one dedicated to 90 rare black-and-white stills, and the other to 75 color stills. Last is the film’s trailer and a set of TV spots.
Passion & Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah is Mike Siegel’s excellent two-hour documentary about the life and work of the filmmaker. It features archival video and audio footage of Sam Peckinpah, as well as interviews with Ernest Borgnine, James Coburn, Ali MacGraw, Kris Kristofferson, L.Q. Jones, David Warner, R.G. Armstrong, Bo Hopkins, Isela Vega, Garner Simmons, David Weddle, Senta Berger, Mario Adorf, Vadim Glowna, Roger Fritz, Gordon Dawson, Dan Melnick, Martin Lewis, Katy Haber, Fern Lea Peter, Chalo González, and Lupita Peckinpah. It’s also narrated by Monte Hellman and features many pieces of behind the scenes footage and photos. Stories on a Storyteller is a three-part documentary unto itself which features many of the same contributors (as does the majority of the material in this release). Each part sees Peckinpah’s most frequent collaborators telling stories about different eras of his career. Mike’s Home Movies traces Mike Siegel’s journey of traveling the world and shooting footage for the documentary at various times, with footage taken at film festivals, retrospectives, and behind the scenes moments from the various interview shoots. The Passion & the Poetry Project speaks directly to Siegel about his history with Peckinpah’s work and his subsequent documentation of it, offering his personal photos, short film snippets, his collection of memorabilia, and more behind the scenes photos from his documentaries. Passion & Poetry with Peckinpah in Portugal details Siegel’s trip to Portugal in May of 2022 where his documentary and Peckinpah’s films played. Last is a restoration demonstration and a trailer for the documentary.
Like most Blu-ray releases of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (once again, eight, as of this writing), this release gathers together the most available into a single package, including a number of previously out of print materials from Twilight Time’s Encore Edition Blu-ray. Sadly, it’s still the only place to find Julie Kirgo’s 8 pages of liner notes in the accompanying booklet. Also missing in action from Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release is a Trailers from Hell commentary by Josh Olson. Exclusive to a French Blu-ray release by Filmedia is the nearly 79-minute documentary Sam Peckinpah: Portrait, as well as an additional interview (with whom I’m not sure). Also not included from the UK Blu-ray release by Arrow Video is an audio commentary with author Stephen Prince; the original Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron documentary, as well as its mammoth director’s cut; the audio featurette The John Player Lecture: Sam Peckinpah; a set of Kris Kristofferson’s songs; and a 42-page insert booklet containing liner notes and essays by film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Mike Sutton, Kathleen Murphy, Richard T. Jameson, F. Albert Bomar, and Alan J. Warren. It’s also worth noting that a Japanese DVD release by Kind Records included a CD soundtrack of Jerry Fielding’s score.
If you own any of those previous releases of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, you may want to hang onto them, but also think about picking this one up as it has the finest set of extras for the film currently on the market, and it’s hard to imagine it being topped in that capacity (that’s a challenge I’m throwing down, by the way). The main presentation leaves much to be desired, but perhaps that can be improved upon in the future.
- Dr. Adam Jahke and Tim Salmons