Convoy (1978 film)
US film poster
|Directed by||Sam Peckinpah|
|Produced by||Robert M. Sherman|
|Screenplay by||B.W.L. Norton|
by C. W. McCall
|Music by||Chip Davis|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling, Jr.|
|Edited by||John Wright|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$45 million|
Convoy is a 1978 action film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair and Franklyn Ajaye. The film is based on the 1975 country and western novelty song "Convoy" by C. W. McCall. The film was made when the CB radio/trucking craze was at its peak in the United States, and followed the similarly themed films White Line Fever (1975) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977). It was the most commercially successful film of Peckinpah's career.
In the Arizona desert, truck driver Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald is passed by a woman in a Jaguar XK-E, which leads to an encounter with a state trooper. Proceeding on his way, Rubber Duck runs into fellow truck drivers Pig Pen/Love Machine and Spider Mike, when another "trucker" informs them over the C.B. that they are okay to increase their speed. The "trucker" turns out to be Sheriff "Dirty Lyle" Wallace, a long-time nemesis of the Duck, who extorts them for $70 each.
The truckers head on to Rafael's Glide-In where the Duck's sometime girlfriend, Violet, works as a waitress. Melissa, the driver of the XK-E, is also there; the car broke down and she had to sell it and some of her belongings in an effort to leave Arizona, as she's due in Dallas for a job. The Duck offers Melissa a ride; Violet is unimpressed and ushers him away to give him a special birthday present. While away, Wallace shows up at the Glide-In checking plates. Pig Pen and Spider Mike start making fun of Wallace over the diner's base-station CB radio, leading to Wallace attempting to arrest Spider Mike for "vagrancy".
The Duck, having been warned by Widow Woman, enters and tries to smooth things over. But Lyle is determined and insults Mike, who is desperate to get home to his pregnant wife. Mike punches Wallace, leading to a brawl in the diner when some troopers arrive to assist Wallace. The assorted truckers prevail, and the Duck handcuffs Wallace to a bar stool. After pulling the spark plug wires and distributor caps out of the police cars, they all decide to head for the state line to avoid prosecution.
The truckers drive across Arizona and New Mexico, with Wallace in belated pursuit after he forces a local youth outside the diner to give up his vehicle when he finds him possessing drugs. He catches up with Duck, but matters are made worse when Melissa accidentally causes Duck to veer into the path of Wallace's vehicle, forcing him to crash through a billboard and into a ditch, only infuriating him further. The initial police pursuit is foiled when Duck leads the truckers off the main highway and down a rough dusty desert trail, causing several of the police cars to crash. Wallace in yet another vehicle, this time commandeered from one of the state troopers, is again thwarted when Pig Pen and Spider Mike crush his vehicle between their rigs while in motion. Additional independent truckers join them to form a mile-long convoy in support of the Rubber Duck's vendetta against the abusive Wallace. The truckers communicate with each other via CB radio, and much CB jargon is sprinkled throughout the film. As the rebellious truckers evade and confront the police, Rubber Duck becomes a reluctant hero.
It becomes apparent the truckers have a great deal of political support and the Governor of New Mexico, Jerry Haskins, meets Rubber Duck. At about the same time, Wallace and a brutal Alvarez, Texas, sheriff, arrest Spider Mike, who left the convoy to be with his wife after giving birth to their son. Wallace's plan is to use Mike as "bait" to trap Rubber Duck. A janitor at the jail, aware of the plan, messages by CB radio that Spider Mike has been wrongfully arrested and beaten. Various truckers relay the message to New Mexico.
Rubber Duck ends the meeting with Haskins and leaves to rescue Spider Mike. Several other truckers join him and head east to Texas. The truckers eventually destroy half of the town and the jail and rescue Spider Mike. Knowing they will now be hunted by the authorities, the truckers head for the border of Mexico. On the way, Rubber Duck gets separated from the rest of the convoy when the others get stopped by a traffic accident. The film culminates with a showdown near the United States-Mexico border where Rubber Duck is forced to face Wallace and a National Guard unit stationed on a bridge. Firing a machine gun, Wallace and the Guardsmen cause the truck's tanker trailer to explode, while Rubber Duck deliberately steers the tractor unit over the side of the bridge, plummeting into the churning river below, sending Duck presumably to his death.
A public funeral is held for Rubber Duck, in which Haskins promises to work for the truckers by taking their case to Washington, D.C. Disgusted with the politics of the situation, Pig Pen abruptly leaves the funeral. A distraught Melissa is led to a school bus with several "long-haired friends of Jesus" inside. There she finds Rubber Duck in disguise sitting in the back. He asks, "You ever seen a duck that couldn't swim?" The convoy takes to the road with the coffin in tow, abruptly ending the politicians' speeches. As the bus passes Wallace, he spies the Duck and bursts into laughter.
- Kris Kristofferson as Martin 'Rubber Duck' Penwald
- Ali MacGraw as Melissa
- Ernest Borgnine as Sheriff Lyle "Cottonmouth" Wallace of Natoosha County, Arizona
- Burt Young as Bobby "Love Machine" "Pig Pen"
- Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman
- Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike
- Brian Davies as Chuck Arnoldi
- Seymour Cassel as Governor Jerry Haskins
- Cassie Yates as Violet
- Walter Kelley as Federal Agent Hamilton
- Billy Hughes as Pack Rat
- Jorge Russek as Texas Alvarez Sheriff Tiny Alvarez
- Patrice Martinez as Maria
- Donnie Fritts as Reverend Sloane
- Tommy Bush as Chief Stacey Love
Convoy was filmed almost entirely in the state of New Mexico. Production began in 1977 when the CB radio/trucking craze was at its peak, made during the same period as such films as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Handle with Care (1977), Breaker! Breaker! (1977) and High-Ballin' (1978), as well as the television series Movin' On (1974–1976) and B. J. and the Bear (1979–1981).
During this period of Sam Peckinpah's life, it was reported he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. His four previous films, Cross of Iron (1977), The Killer Elite (1975), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) had struggled at the box office and the director needed a genuine blockbuster success. Unhappy with the screenplay written by B.W.L. Norton, Peckinpah tried to encourage the actors to re-write, improvise and ad-lib their dialogue, with little success. In another departure from the script, Peckinpah attempted to add a new dimension to the film by casting a pair of black actors as members of the convoy including Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman and Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike. The director's health became a continuing problem, so friend and actor James Coburn was brought in to serve as second unit director. Coburn directed much of the film's footage while Peckinpah remained in his on-location trailer.
Peckinpah's original rough cut of Convoy, assembled by Peckinpah and his long time editor Garth Craven in early 1978, had an estimated running time of 220 minutes. According to the book If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah by David Weddle and the Convoy documentary Passion & Poetry: Sam's Trucker Movie, Peckinpah's rough cut did not have any musical score other than the title song and "Blow The Gates To Heaven" by Richard Gillis (who had previously worked with Peckinpah on The Ballad of Cable Hogue). Jerry Fielding, who composed music for lot of Peckinpah's previous films, was also hired to do the score for Convoy.
After seeing Peckinpah's rough cut, EMI and their executive producer Michael Deeley fired him and Craven from the film and hired another editor, Graeme Clifford, to drastically reduce the running time and emphasise aspects that would play well to Smokey and the Bandit's audience; Hal Needham's comedy had been a huge hit a year earlier. Peckinpah essentially disowned the released version. Garner Simmons, author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, said that EMI and Clifford's version of Convoy "cut the guts out of it".[verification needed]
The picture finished eleven days behind schedule at a cost of $12 million, more than double its original budget. Convoy was the highest grossing picture of Peckinpah's career, notching $45 million at the box office. But his reputation was seriously damaged by rumors of increasingly destructive alcohol and cocaine abuse. Peckinpah would make just one more film, The Osterman Weekend in 1983, before his death the following year.
The famous scene where the tanker truck goes off a bridge and explodes was filmed in Needles, California, on a one-way bridge over the Colorado River between Arizona and Needles. The Needles City Fire Department provided fire protection during this scene. The bridge was soon removed thereafter as a new span connected the two sides of the river.
Peckinpah has a cameo as a sound man during an interview scene. Rubber Duck's truck is generally represented in the film as a 1977 Mack RS712LST although several other Mack RS700L series trucks were used as a double and as stationary props. The original 1977 Mack truck, its on-road movie double, and the only original remaining tank trailer are on display at the Museum of Transportation outside St. Louis, Missouri.
A paperback novelization of the film by screenwriter B.W.L. Norton (ISBN 9780440112983) was published in 1978. A more serious edge and less humor was given to the film's story and there are some changes and additions, such as no mention of Spider Mike being African-American, a definite hatred between Rubber Duck and Wallace, a fight between Rubber Duck and Wallace after Spider Mike is broken out of jail, Widow Woman getting married (for the fifth time) and a background story given to Melissa.
- "Convoy" by C. W. McCall (a new version, written especially for the film, with saltier language)
- "Lucille" by Kenny Rogers
- "Cowboys Don't Get Lucky All the Time" by Gene Watson
- "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" by Crystal Gayle
- "I Cheated on a Good Woman's Love" by Billy "Crash" Craddock
- "Okie From Muskogee" by Merle Haggard
- "Southern Nights" by Glen Campbell
- "Blanket on the Ground" by Billie Jo Spears
- "Keep on the Sunny Side" by Doc Watson
- "Walk Right Back" by Anne Murray
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "has been made before much less expensively and much more entertainingly by directors with no aspirations to be artists. 'Convoy' is a bad joke that backfires on the director. He has neither the guts to play the movie straight as melodrama nor the sense of humor to turn it into a kind of 'Smokey and the Bandit' comedy. The movie is a big, costly, phony exercise in myth-making, machismo, romance-of-the-open-road nonsense and incredible self-indulgence." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote, "Sam Peckinpah's 'Convoy' starts out as 'Smokey And The Bandit,' segues into either 'Moby Dick' or 'Les Miserables,' and ends in the usual script confusion and disarray, the whole stew peppered with the vulgar excess of random truck crashes and miscellaneous destruction ... Every few minutes there's some new roadblock to run, alternating with pithy comments on The Meaning Of It All. There's a whole lot of nothing going on here." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and wrote, "Save for a car sailing through the roof of a barn, 'Convoy' is sluggish entertainment, the first road race film in which I rooted for the cops against the good guys. Kristofferson's getting caught would have made a shorter and better picture." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a multivehicle wreck of a movie" and "slack stuff, missing as a sizzling love story, missing as the kind of funny anti-authoritarian statement the song was, arriving well past the peak of the CB phenomenon, making no statement one way or the other about trucks or truckers." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film "suggests a shotgun misalliance of 'Billy Jack' and 'Smokey and the Bandit,'" and all Peckinpah could do with the "stupid material" was "to pretend he's getting somewhere by noisily spinning his wheels. More often than not even his visual pyrotechnics falls short, and he's left trying to rationalize nonsensical characters and conflicts by imposing his sentimentalities about men of war on them." John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin was generally positive, writing, "What sets this apart from other recent citizen-band road movies is the skill with which Peckinpah redefines the artifacts of the Western, which is what Convoy transparently remains. It has lines of cavalrymen, a cattle drive, a secret trail to Mexico, a circular camp site, innocent bar-room fisticuffs and a hero who, while caring nothing for women, at the same time reveres the married man and his homestead ... The adroitness of mood is perhaps best characterised by the moment when, his audience having been softened by the surrounding exuberance, Peckinpah slips into place such a poignantly sentimental moment as the departure of Spider Mike for his hometown."
Home video release
- "Convoy, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- "Internet Movie Database, Filming Locations for Convoy". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 514. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. p. 515. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
- Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. p. 232. ISBN 0-292-76493-6.
- If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah
- Passion & Poetry – Sam's Trucker Movie (2013)
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 517–518. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
- "Internet Movie Database, Trivia for Convoy". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
- Trucks from the film Convoy
- Convoy. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
- Bach, Steven. Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the making of Heaven's Gate. pp. 124–125. ISBN 0-688-04382-8
- Canby, Vincent (June 28, 1978). "Film: Peckinpah's 'Convoy,' Open-Road Machismo". The New York Times. C17.
- Murphy, Arthur D. (June 28, 1978). "Film Reviews: Convoy". Variety. 22.
- Siskel, Gene (July 4, 1978). "'Convoy' — too tired to get rolling". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 6.
- Champlin, Charles (June 28, 1978). "'Convoy' Hits the Brakes". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1, 15.
- Arnold, Gary (June 28, 1978). "A Trumped-Up 'Convoy' Spins Its Wheels". The Washington Post. E4.
- Pym, John (August 1978). "Convoy". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 45 (535): 156.