I like trucking, I like trucking, I like trucking and I like to truck. (As declared by Not The Nine O’Clock News some years after Convoy and its own song came to prominence.)
Convoy is an unusual film in many ways. Although film narratives are sourced from many different media – novels, comic books, video games, even theme park rides – Convoy was derived from a country song by C.W. McCall, a hit that was a chart sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Added to this, it was directed by Sam Peckinpah, the man who made, amongst others, Cross of Iron (1977), Straw Dogs (1971) and The Wild Bunch (1969) – not an obvious director choice for a feelgood film about trucking. And so emerged a film which was granted an A rating on original its release, but with some cuts to prevent a more restrictive X certificate. Thirty-five years later it has been reissued, uncut, and with more forceful 12 rating (this category did not exist at the time of initial release). It was a box office smash at the time, but how well has it survived the decades?
C.W. McCall’s song does more than inspire the title and prime concept of Convoy, it provides a musical motif throughout the running time, charting the background to the action, the names and actions of many of the characters, declaring that ‘We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy ‘cross the USA.’ The truckers are identified primarily by their handles rather than their legal names as they communicate (in a pre 4G age) through CB radio to create a sense of community despite their physical separation in the cabs of their trucks. Martin Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) is more familiar to the cast – and audience – when he uses his nom de truck, ‘Rubber Duck’.
Rubber Duck is a laid back trucker but he doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for authority and has issues with those in power, particularly those who are corrupt. His new bête noire is tubby faced Sheriff Lyle Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) following an altercation in an Arizona diner. Rubber Duck decides to head away to the border and escape from any ramifications from this confrontation, and is accompanied by other truckers on the road thanks to their interaction through CB radio. He is joined by Melissa (Ali MacGraw), a photographer drifter who has a lot to learn about trucking culture. What begins as a moderate group of trucks joined in a trek to show that they have some personal freedom and plenty of personal pleasures, whatever their vices, turns into an altogether larger group of trucks who learn of the journey and decide to join them. Before long, a convoy, the size of which has never frequented the freeways, is heading out south-west. Such a massive group of vehicles does not, of course, go unnoticed by the authorities or the politicians. Confrontation, arrest and violence are likely to ensue. And they do. But truckers stick to their principles.
Although an unusual film from Peckinpah, many elements that exemplify his works are present in Convoy, notably the observation, discussion and occasional twist between criticism and admiration of machismo in its definitive form. For all its gung-ho macho on the road confrontations, the motivations of the characters on the side of the law and the trucker nonconformists is not as one sided as you would assume to be the case. Aside from the community and moralistic aspects of the film, Convoy also has very commercial aspects of action and spectacle, which depicts group stand offs combined with the popular use of vehicular stunts. These stretch from complex aerial shots of the titular convoy to audience pleasing scenes of action, destruction and stunt-work. These are well handled and, rather like the lack of mobile-phone technology in the truckers’ communication devices, are free of CGI – constructed in-camera and on location which gives an immediacy to proceedings, if they were altogether more dangerous to shoot.
Peckinpah regulars in the cast – including Kris Kristofferson(from Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia  and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid ), Ali MacGraw(from The Getaway ), Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch ) – are a welcome addition to what is a crowd pleasing film whose unusual hit-song premise creates an eminently enjoyable blend of character drama and trucking action. This release (on DVD and Blu-Ray) includes a number of background features – so it is educational too.
We gone, bye bye.