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Convoy 1978


‘Convoy is Vanishing Point with trucks, a nihilistic journey into the world of American individualism with a jaunty soundtrack. It’s a bad film, but it’s also an addictively watchable one…’

I’m never sure about the term ‘guilty pleasure’; how guilty should I feel, and what real pleasure is there to be gained? But it does feel somewhat wrong to be having a good time watching Sam Peckinpah’s 1978 truckers-unite-against-the-authorities movie. Why? Because the legendary director was allegedly too drunk or too high to come out of his trailer, leaving pal James Coburn to handle much of the shoot? Because the whole enterprise was considered to be a cynical cash-grab on the back of a hit novelty song (Convoy by fictional singer CW McCall aka Bill Fries)? Or just because Convoy is a sh*t-ugly, pompous monstrosity of a movie, leavened by corn-poke humour and endlessly savoured violence? This is a misbegotten movie in several ways, but even decades later, it’s still a good time for those with an attitude for destruction..

I first saw Convoy as the BBC’s Boxing Day blockbuster in 1980, in a cut, panned and scanned and generally ruined version; it’s nice to see it now in a proper wide-screen print on streaming, with memorable opening shots of Rubber Duck (Kris Kristofferson) in his truck, barrelling along a snowy interstate beside the petite sports-car driven by Ali McGraw. Rubber Duck and his trucker friends find themselves on the wrong side of the law after a bar-room ruckus with Sherrif Lyle (Ernest Borgnine) gets out of hand. To prove the innocent, the truckers put out a call on one of those new fangled CB radios, and soon, half the country is either in their convoy, or egging them on from the side-lines…

Convoy is one rough and ready movie, with acres of male-camaraderie and roughhousing, but little of the nuance of Peckinpah’s best work ‘We’re the last of a breed’ agree the protagonist and antagonist; while films like The Wild Bunch made this a developed theme, it’s just blurted out in spitball style here. But the action is wild; when the Sherriff steals a hot rod from a stoner couple, he ends up flying through a billboard and several rooftops in extraordinary slow-mo carnage that still looks incredible today. And while the soundtrack experiments with rock and rinky-dink piano accompaniment for the vehicular action, the highlight is a dust ballet in which McCall’s hit song is somehow repurposed as classical music.

With a scuzzy support (Burt Young! Seymour Cassell!) and tonnes of second unit mayhem, Convoy reflects a down and dirty time in the US, but it’s refreshingly un-PC and still packs a rousing punch in places. Convoy is Vanishing Point with trucks, a nihilistic journey into the world of American individualism with a jaunty soundtrack. It’s a bad film, but it’s also an addictively watchable one; not Peckinpah’s best, but a compromised vision that not surprisingly found fortune in Russia with its pro-worker mindset. The Soviet Cinema Board felt that the film reflected ‘just anger on the part of those who have suffered injustices at the hands of American authorities. Ordinary Americans watching this film see not desperate rebels, but a mighty fist of the working man.’ As the song says, aint’s that a beautiful sight?


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  1. I haven’t seen this in years but everything in your review makes me want to watch it tonight! Just checked Prime & Netflix Japan and neither have it…😭

  2. As a Peckinpah fan (and a country music fan) I enjoyed this on the same cinema screen I’d seen Cross of Iron 16 months earlier in March 1977. Convoy was also an EMI production but sadly Sam was too out on cocaine to really make the most of the opportunity – EMI were less ‘hands-on’ than the Hollywood majors. Even so Sam went over budget significantly but it turned out to be his biggest earner, again because of European box office. The link you didn’t make is that Bill Norton was responsible for the script and it was his directorial début Cisco Pike (1971) that really started Kristofferson’s career. Cisco Pike is finally available to see on disc now, I think. It also has great music by Kristofferson.

    • Not seen Cisco Pike for decades, will give it a look. Another good old BBC 2 late night classic like Scarecrow or Prime Cut. That’s a great spot; Bill Norton is indeed the link here. I can’t help but imagine that this must have been one of the many roles that McQueen turned down, but the mix with McGraw works for me. Peckinpah’s influence led to much of the 70’s action style, but while this film is untypical of Peckinpah’s depth or melancholy, it’s still got a little of his laconic attitude, even if Coburn reportedly did much of the heavy lifting. Even Osterman, widely disparaged, kind of works for me, but I’ll circle back for Cisco Pike, had completely forgotten that one!

  3. When I was features editor of the university newspaper I got into trouble for putting quite a large still in the centre pages of Kristofferson at his, how shall I put, most handsome, from The Sailor Who From Grace with the Sea. However, my instincts proved correct as that issue had a record sale. Oddly enough, I gave Convoy a miss back in the day. Maybe I had grown a sophisticated outer layer. CB was hardly what I expected my Peckinpah to come wrapped up in.

    • While this has glaring faults, I’m kind of obsessed with it and with Peckinpah’s unique editing style. He seems to generate about 50 miles of footage and then just lock his editing teams away and hope a film emerges. When it works, it’s great, and even when it doesn’t: well, Coburn earned his salt here, since the amount of second unit is remarkable, even drowning out some big stars. Stephen King wrote about the appeal of movies with gears and pistons, and this is a good example. And Kristofferson was one wiry dude; got a story about him reversing out of the driveway at Rod Steiger’s house I’ll share one day…

  4. For me, guilty pleasures are more about the context rather than the content. Reading a trashy romance novel is not a guilty pleasure. Calling in to work and pretending to be sick so you can stay home and read a trashy romance novel is a guilty pleasure. And the fact that I’m not supposed to doing it – the guilt factor – enhances the pleasure!

    This looks like a good one.

    • This sounds like a full confession! Kristofferson was hot after A Star Is Born, McGraw was still hot after Love Story and The Getaway, and James Coburn was burning the midnight oil to deliver action; it may be redneck mayhem, but why should I or anyone feel guilty!? A little grit in the oyster of life…

  5. Man, ol’ Kris didn’t age so well, when you see pictures like this of him.

    On a serious note, I’ve noticed several times that you decry “pan and scan”. I’m just wondering, how bad can it be? Don’t they just cut the edges off so the film becomes the 3×4 of a television?

  6. Immediately started grinning reading this and seeing the trailer. Seen this twice back in the day and loved it, (I was a CB radio person) and I don’t feel guilty one bit! Don’t care if Sam was drunk, Coburn did a good enough job for me.

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