Friday, 27 August 2010

Truck Drivin' Man - Convoy

Fritz Lang once said that widescreen photography was only good for snakes and funerals. You can add 18-wheelers to that list. Convoy, Sam Peckinpah's 1978 film, based on a song by singer-songwriter C. W. McCall, is essentially one long chase sequence - Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) a trucker passing through Arizona picks up some unwanted heat from crooked cop with a vendetta, Lyle Wallace (Ernest Borgnine). With a convoy of truckers in tow, Rubber Duck floors it for the state line, his evasion from the law becomes a national media event, and an unlikely hero is born...

Essentially, a western in disguise, the cowboys of Peckinpah's film may have updated their horses for trucks but the territory is still the same. Forced to turn outlaw, there's only one place to go for these desperadoes, and that's the tequila flavoured freedomland of Mexico. Admittedly, Convoy is not regarded as one of the maverick director's better films. Legend has it that much of the film is the work of second unit director James Coburn, so heavy was Peckinpah's booze and coke intake during the shoot, that the director would not emerge from his trailer for days on end. In fact, the production of the film was something of a disaster - it went over budget, over schedule (which led to a temporary shutdown so Kristofferson could go on tour), and by the time the film was released in theatres, a few other truck-themed films riding on the back of the success of Smokie & the Bandit beat it to the finish line, no doubt zapping some of its potential box office.

Against all odds the film proved to be a hit with audiences, but it wouldn't be enough to stitch back together Peckinpah's ragged reputation. His next film The Osterman Weekend would be 4 years away. Big, loud and often stupid, Convoy is a hugely entertaining piece of pop cinema. It rushes by at a full throttle, its got great action, great set pieces (a memorable brawl at a truck stop, lots of senseless destruction and mayhem), and a cast of Peckinpah veterans - Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch), Kristofferson (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), Burt Young (The Killer Elite) and Ali MacGraw (The Getaway). Peckinpah threw out the original screenplay and had the actors improvise their lines, and while we never learn anything more about Rubber Duck than his real name, the actors perform well enough to give the film an extra kick and a few laughs.

A runaway truck drives thru Peckinpah's cocaine stash
The film might be dismissed by critics fawning over The Wild Bunch, but it has been referenced at least twice in the last few years inother movies. Tarantino took a wink at the film by having a rubber duck fixed to his villain's car in Deathproof. And the name Stuntman Mike may be derived from Franklyn Ajaye's character in the film Spider Mike. Also the CB voice of Rusty Nail, the truck driving killer from the 2002 film Roadkill, is almost exactly like Kristofferson's. Also, look fast for Peckinpah's cameo as one of the camera crew filming Rubber Duck and his convoy.

A quick director cameo - proving that Peckinpah did at least show up for work some of the time
Currently the best way to see Convoy is the Region 2 Optimum DVD, which features a fine 2:35 widescreen image, and strong audio. This being a no-frills disc, only a trailer is supplied by way of an extra. A shame Stdio Canal didn't commission an audio commentary from Peckinpah scholars Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle, who have given insightful and fascinating commentaries on previous Peckinpah DVDs. It would have been very interesting to hear their thoughts on this most underrated film.


  1. Oh man, I have fond memories of seeing this at the drive-in on it's first run when I was a kid. Very nostalgic for me.

  2. I just saw this for the first time in the last year or so - I enjoyed it - a worthy addition to the car chase genre of the time. Sad that it took 4 years for Peckinpah to get behind the camera again - and then it was for the last time. I don't know how it's looking thirty years on - but back when it came out The Osterman Weekend seemed a pretty weak last movie.

  3. Craig, I saw The Osterman Weekend back in August and despite going into this one with enthusiasm, it's a ghost of a Peckinpah film, clumsily put together from a contrived script about investigative journalist Rutger Hauer's attempts to flush out some KGB double-agents. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance (including an effective re-thread of the climactic siege in Straw Dogs) the film is hamstrung by a general half-halfheartedness on everyone's behalf. Even Lalo Schifrin's score seems like it was lifted from a porno...