Warren Oates as Bennie Benjamin, piano-playing bounty hunter
Mexico, May 1973
Film: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Release Date: August 14, 1974
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Wardrobe Credit: Adolfo Ramírez
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Warren Oates, the grizzled Kentucky-born actor celebrated on BAMF Style for his depiction of John Dillinger in 1973’s Dillinger and also his collaborations with director Sam Peckinpah including The Wild Bunch (1969) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). It was this latter film that the iconoclastic director deemed the only one from his three-decade career that matched his original vision.
Critics and audiences at the time were far less enthusiastic about Bloody Sam’s passion project, though Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has gained a considerable cult following in the years since its release.
It’s not surprising that Peckinpah considered this the best execution of his dream, as Warren Oates had channeled the director himself for the lead role of Bennie Benjamin, the three-time loser hired to carry out the gruesome titular task.
“Like Monte Hellman, Peckinpah found a totem, a comrade, a self-portrait in actor Warren Oates,” wrote Noah Segan for Birth. Movies. Death. in January 2016. “In Alfredo Garcia, Oates embodies Peckinpah physically, mirroring his big sunglasses, jaunty dress and rakish, roguish grin… In the mid-‘70s, Peckinpah himself was also struggling to maintain his vision, make the films he wanted to, and it is no coincidence that his relationship with Oates mirrors that.”
In honor of a few requests I’ve received to write about this movie, Car Week continues with an exploration of Bennie’s unorthodox warm-weather wardrobe and the dirty red ’62 Impala convertible that takes Bennie and his girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) into the heart of Mexico.
What’d He Wear?
After he is hired by the gangsters Sappensly and Quill, Bennie changes out of his embroidered brown suede jacket that he wore behind the piano at Mexico City’s Tlaquepaque Bar and dressed in a wrinkled off-white linen sport suit that he would wear for the film’s duration. Though hardly resplendent at the outset of Bennie’s mission, his suit would take significant battering as he goes about acquiring the head in question.
The ivory linen suit has a single-breasted, two-button jacket with wide notch lapels with swelled edges. The dramatic cut of the notches echo the peak-like “cran necker lapel” that was popular in the early ’70s. The lapel notches are so deep that the lapels begin folding in on themselves as his labors grow increasingly chaotic.
Both buttons on the front and the two vestigal buttons at the end of each sleeve are all flat brown plastic sew-through buttons. All three of the jacket’s patch pockets – one on the left breast and one on each hip – are box-pleated.
The back of Bennie’s suit jacket takes style cues from sporty “action back” suits of decades past with its Western-style yoke across the back of the shoulders that comes to a single point in the center of Oates’ back. A box pleat connects the yoke point to the half-belt at the waist. A long single vent extends up at least 12 inches from the bottom of the jacket to the bottom of the half-belt.
An interesting detail of Bennie’s suit can be seen just below the inner breast pocket on the right side. Two black boxes, cater-cornered, are stitched just below the pocket, each with a contrast-stitched letter to create a monogram.
The suit has matching flat front trousers that are worn with a dark brown leather belt that closes through a dark brass single-prong buckle.
A common detail of suit trousers in the early 1970s was “frogmouth” front pockets, similar to those found on many pairs of blue jeans or other casual pants, and Oates’ suit is no exception. The trousers also have jetted back pockets that close through a single button and plain-hemmed bottoms.
The first of several loud shirts that Bennie wears with this suit is seen as he picks up Elita from her bordello before going to the hotel room to negotiate his salary for obtaining Alfredo Garcia’s head.
This shirt has a busy pattern of sage green and mauve paisley on a white ground. Like his other shirts, it has a long-pointed semi-spread collar, a plain front with mother-of-pearl buttons, and buttoned cuffs.
Perhaps trying to make an impression since he’ll be conducting “business”, Bennie adds a new dimension of complexity to his look by wearing an orange-and-cream large-scaled houndstooth tie. In case wearing a cloth creamsicle around his neck wasn’t bad enough already, Bennie yanks the tie off in mid-meeting, tackily revealing to his new business associates that it was a clip-on tie.
The next day, Bennie and Elita embark on their road trip to Alfredo Garcia’s grave. (In case you’re wondering why his girlfriend would be so eager to join him for this morbid task, he conceals his primary purpose from her at first, telling her only that he wants to visit the grave for personal proof that her former paramour is no longer a threat to him… because that’s much more normal.)
Though he’s sporting another paisley shirt, this one is much more subdued in tonal pale blue-on-pale blue. The paisley pattern has a satin finish that shines under the Mexican sun as he and Elita ride with the Impala’s top down.
The style is consistent with his previous shirt as well as prevailing fashion trends of the mid-1970s with its long point collar. It buttons up the plain front and on the cuffs with mother-of-pearl buttons, and it has a breast pocket.
The following day of the road trip is the darkest of Bennie and Elita’s journey as the arrive in the town where Alfredo was buried. They find the grave… but also far more trouble than either of them could have expected.
For this misadventure, Bennie wears his most understated shirt yet in pale peach with white stripes widely spaced apart over the shirt. With its lower contrast color and pattern than his other shirts, this shirt works in tandem with Bennie’s suit to envelope him in sandy neutral tones.
Though it has a long point collar like the others, it also has a very wide front placket (rather than a plain front) and stacked two-button cuffs. All of the shirt’s sew-through buttons are mother-of-pearl or a similar-looking plastic.
Having emerged with Garcia’s head, Bennie goes back to see the gangsters that hired him and get payment… and revenge. For this, he’s back in a chaotic, multi-colored paisley shirt as he wore for his first visit to the hotel suite, though the bronze tones in the pattern more echo the color of his suit… and he thankfully foregoes the clip-on tie.
The floral paisley pattern consists of bright, earthy tones like bronze, orange, and sage green, on a white ground.
This shirt, like the others, has a long point collar and button cuffs. The plain front closes with tan plastic sew-through buttons.
Bennie’s shoes are dirty white calf leather monk-strap loafers.
Bennie wears a pair of buttery yellow ribbed cotton lisle socks. While not the most stylish choice, they are low-contrast enough to keep the look relatively unified, and they echo many of the other colors and shades present in Bennie’s aesthetic.
Bennie’s underwear matches his socks, as he wears a pair of pale yellow cotton boxer shorts with an elastic waistband.
A well-documented aspect of Warren Oates’ characterization is that he borrowed Sam Peckinpah’s personal sunglasses as Bennie’s eyewear of choice. Indeed, these lopsided sunglasses worn with Bennie’s wrinkled suit and loudly printed shirts paint an accurate portrait of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia‘s disorganized protagonist, a twisted Fred C. Dobbs with a rough case of crabs.
Bennie’s watch has a round yellow gold case with a shiny dial, worn on a black leather strap.
What to Imbibe
Bennie Benjamin isn’t one to preach temperance, either swigging away his misadventures with a bottle of tequila or ordering “a double bourbon with a champagne back, none of your tijano bullshit, and fuck off.”
It’s the former refreshment in which Bennie finds most of his salvation, taking along a bottle of Jose Cuervo silver tequila that he and Elita pass between each other during their picnic.
At the time of the film’s production in the fall of 1973, Cuervo’s silver variety was labeled and marketed as “Jose Cuervo Blanco”, though rebranding over the decades has established this same unaged bottling as Jose Cuervo Silver Especial for the modern consumer.
Both Especial Silver and Especial Gold varieties are “mixto” tequilas, consisting of at least 51% agave with the remaining consisting of sugarcane spirit. For a 100% agave Jose Cuervo tequila, consumers would be wise to pick up a bottle of Tradicional Silver or Tradicional resposado.
Bennie’s chariot that takes him and Elita deep into Mexico is a dirty red 1962 Chevrolet Impala Convertible that belches smoke as much as it kicks up dust.
The Impala made its inaugural appearance in 1958 as GM was rolling out fiftieth anniversary models for each of its marques. As a top-of-the-line option for Chevy’s Bel Air in the 1958 model year, the Impala differentiated itself with symmetrical triple taillights and a convertible option that would last until the K-car era.
After a redesign that embraced the tailfin era in 1959, the Chevrolet Impala was again redesigned for the 1961 model year, this time on GM’s full-size B platform that remains one of the best-selling automobile platforms in history. This third generation of Impala also saw the introduction of the Super Sport (SS) appearance option in 1961 and the legendary 409 cubic-inch V8 engine in 1962 that the Beach Boys popularized in their surf rock hit single the same year.
The 409 cid “Turbo Thrust” V8 dominated the high end of third generation Impala engine options, which ranged all the way down to the base 235 cubic-inch “Hi-Thrift” inline-6 engine that likely motored our pal Bennie’s red ’62 convertible.
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 235.5 cid (3.9 L) Chevrolet “Hi-Thrift” 235 inline-6 with Rochester 2-barrel carburetor
Power: 135 hp (100.5 kW; 137 PS) @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 217 lb·ft (294 N·m) @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: 2-speed Powerglide automatic
Wheelbase: 119 inches (3023 mm)
Length: 209.6 inches (5324 mm)
Width: 79 inches (2007 mm)
Height: 55 inches (1397 mm)
Bennie’s Impala appears to have an automatic transmission. Chevy’s four-speed Turboglide transmission was discontinued for the ’62 model year, leaving only the simple and venerated two-speed Powerglide as a possibility.
The Impala is registered as 736 AKH to Mexico City with 1972 plates.
Bennie carries a Colt Commander, a more compact version of the full-size M1911 semi-automatic service pistol. As a former officer of the U.S. Army, Bennie would certainly knows his way around a 1911-style sidearm, and his deftness during the gunfight with Alfredo Garcia’s family proves to be one of the few skills where he can prove himself ably.
After World War II, the U.S. military was seeking a lighter alternative to its heavy M1911A1 service pistol that could be issued to officers. Up to this point, officers often carried the more concealable Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless (think George C. Scott firing at a German plane in Patton), though this smaller sidearm was chambered for the relatively anemic .32 ACP and .380 ACP ammunition. The new pistol had to chambered for the medium-caliber 9×19 mm Parabellum round and couldn’t be more than seven inches long or 25 ounces in mass.
To meet these requirements, Colt introduced the Commander, a slightly downsized 1911 that shortened the full-size 5″ barrel to 4.25″ and could carry nine 9×19 mm Parabellum rounds in the magazine. Constructed from an aluminum frame rather than steel for a reasonably lighter weight of 27 ounces, the Colt Commander was the first aluminum-framed pistol to enter mass production when Colt moved it into regular production in 1950, introducing .45 ACP and .38 Super calibers alongside the government-requested 9mm.
In 1970, Colt refreshed its Commander lineup by re-establishing the lighter aluminum-framed pistol as the Colt Lightweight Commander and introducing an all-steel Colt Combat Commander.
Colt currently offers the Commander Series® with the steel-framed Combat Commander and the aluminum-framed Lightweight Commander, both available in .45 ACP and 9x19mm Parabellum for $999.
How to Get the Look
Truth be told, Warren Oates’ outfit in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is pretty tacky. However, there’s no reason it can’t inspire a more stylish interpretation for your new summer look; find a beige linen suit with more timeless styling and details, a shirt with a more subdued print, and a set of monks in a more traditional leather like brown calf.
Sticking to the exact specs of Bennie’s ensemble would look like a costume, at best. And, for the sake of everything holy… no clip-on ties.
- Ivory linen sport suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with wide notch lapels, box-pleated patch breast pocket, box-pleated patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and half-belted “action back” back with box pleat and single vent
- Paisley-patterned shirt with long point collar, plain front, and button cuffs
- Dark brown leather belt with brass single-prong buckle
- White calf leather monk-strap loafers
- Yellow ribbed cotton lisle socks
- Pale yellow cotton boxer shorts with elastic waistband
- Tortoise melange wide-framed sunglasses with amber lenses
- Yellow gold round-cased wristwatch with silver dial on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I can smell shit a hundred miles away… sometimes closer.