Thursday, February 16, 2017



Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Sam Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski, story by Sam Peckinpah and Gordon Dawson

Sam Peckinpah made westerns. Very bloody, violent westerns. They also had a lot of gratuitous nudity. “The Wild Bunch,” probably ranks as one of the most influential westerns of the times, but even his films that didn’t take place in the old west, like “Straw Dogs,” are basically westerns that happen to take place somewhere else. Another director that's kinda like that was John Ford, you watch something like "The Informer" or "The Quiet Man" of his and they're pretty good films, that only sorta seem different than his typical westerns, and that's because they're still pretty much Western stories.

Most people point to “Straw Dogs,” as Peckinpah's best neo-Western type film, of that nature, about an American couple who took up an old house in Ireland, despite the subtle protest and hatred of the townspeople. It got a remake recent, so it's popular, but I never thought that film worked at all. It probably works metaphorically somehow, and probably better in the novel it’s based on, which does vary from the movie but to me, that was one of his weakest films, and it if hadn’t been so violent, it probably would’ve played as unbelievably comic. There was a similar reaction to his “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” that was penned by Bob Dylan. 

One of his best films though is “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” a modern day western that basically tells you the plot in its title. A very rich man with power in Mexico (Emilio Fernandez) has just offered one million dollars for Alfredo Garcia’s head. Two mysterious money-hungry men seem to have a great interest in the million dollars (Robert Webber and Gig Young). One of them announces his name is Fred C. Dobbs, which is the name of Humphrey Bogart’s character in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. They find a local bartender/pianoplayer (Warren Oates) who’s got an interest in Alfredo Garcia, a man who apparently spent a couple days recently with his sometime girlfriend (Isela Vega). She also informs him that Garcia just died in a car accident. As you can tell by the title, that’s rather irrelevant to the two mysterious strangers. They offer ten thousand to the bartender to bring the head. Obviously, with a MaGuffin as big a bounty as this one, he’s not the only one looking. I think by one count, twenty-six people get killed searching for the head, almost all of them had incredibly bloody ends.

Peckinpah was as much of a control freak artistically as Orson Welles, and all his films clearly show that.  People die in slow motion in Peckinpah films, blood spills out of the them. The archetypes are there, the guy out for revenge, others out for money, a prostitute character, guys with money who are offering the bounty…,  he just takes a western story, it even looks like the old west, but instead of horses, they're driving automobiles and motorcycles through the desert, combining the images of modern technology with the images of Mexico that don’t look like they’ve been touched in decades, a canvas that's perfect for Peckinpah to smear with pulp and blood. That’s a lot of Peckinpah’s films, basically traditional westerns, but nobody was as stylized as Peckinpah he was. 

"…Alfredo Garcia,” works because it’s remains incredibly entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable.  There’s a scene in the movie that worked for me, but caused a great debate among the three Peckinpah experts on the audio commentary. It involves Kris Kristofferson and Dicky Fritts as a couple of motorcycle hippies who attempt to rape Elita, while Benny is held at gunpoint. Strangely, Benny is rather unable to do anything at first, but Elita, handles the situation with surprising confidence and competence. There’s always a surprising amount of stoicism and dominance in Peckinpah’s women characters. I don't know how subtle it is or how intentional it is, but they have far more effect on the actions of the men then the men ever seem to realize. I wonder what it says that it usually to disastrous results for the men, but.... (Shrugs) 

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