Convoy is a misunderstood and often (unfairly) criticised film. One constantly mentioned point is that it is based on a song. That isn’t entirely true. The original version of the song does not include the plot or the characters from the film. A new version was written based on the screenplay, this is the one used in the film and played on the radio. It is also the highest grossing film of Sam Peckinpah’s directorial career. The basic plot of the film is that a group of truckers including The Duck (Kris Kristofferson) go on the run heading first for the state line and ultimately the Mexican border following an altercation with a corrupt sheriff superbly played by Ernest Borgnine. As they are perused by the sheriff their numbers grow as other trucks join them in support. The situation is further complicated by the presence of a photographer (Ali MacGraw) who is riding with The Duck following the breakdown of her car.
There is also a lot of debate as to what the film is about? Is it an attempt to cash in on the CB radio craze of the time? Or a protest at the 55 MPH speed limit? Or even an exploration of equality or race. It is probably a bit of all these things but it also contains all the elements you would expect of a Sam Peckinpah film. The violent and bloody climaxes that his films often have are not the point of the film the end of an era or a change of times is merely represented by this killing. The Ducks apparent death and his ultimate survival could be interpreted a lot of ways. I like to think it is a message of hope that the cowboy spirit of the truck drivers has not been lost or broken. Despite the hardship that the Duck faces in the face of changing times and because of his moral code by surviving he defeats Lyle’s amoral code.
There are two things that make the film work. The cast and the trucks, more about the trucks later. The cast is headed by Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck aka The Duck aka Martin Penwald. He was at the height of his fame having made some great films: Cisco Pike and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (also with Sam Peckinpah) Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (directed by Martin Scorseese) as well as the rubbish but popular A Star is Born. Ali MacGraw had not made a film since The Getaway (also directed by Pecckinpah) six years earlier (following her divorce from Robert Evans and marriage to Steve McQueen) but was still a bankable star. Burt Young was recognisable after the success of Rocky. The film stealing performance comes from Ernest Borgnine as Lyle Wallace, the corrupt sheriff and The Ducks nemesis.
I said more about the trucks later. The film has a real cult following and as with all cult films it has fanatical fans (See my post from 25th February about my trip to Texas last year) but some fans are more productive with their obsession .
As they explain on the website the plan was to build a spot-on replica of the Ducks Mack truck but this proved impossible as four different Mack’s were used that were not identical so no one truck can be an exact match. The starting point for the project was the purchase of a 1970 Mack that was used as the second unit truck in the film. It was very badly damaged and has been completely re-built and is now roadworthy and has the licence plate RBR-DUK. You can read more about here:
And speaking of fans look out for the duck on Stuntman Mikes cars in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. In a film full of references to other films this one stands out.
This is a film that different people will take different things away from but many will enjoy. As a child I was obsessed with the film probably because of the trucks. As a student I watched a lot of other Sam Peckinpah movies and on revisiting the film I did see a parallel with some of his other films as described above. This gave Thanks to Dan from RD Productions LC for permission to use the image of his amazing recreation of The Ducks truck.the film an extra dimension for me. I have read lots of things about the troubled production including the suggestion that the second unit director (actor James Coburn) directed a lot of the film while Sam Peckinpah was unwell (unwell being a euphemism for his much publicised problems of the time), unfortunately to the best of my knowledge this has never beer confirmed or denied publicly. So if you haven’t seen this film it is well worth a look. If you haven’t seen it for a long time it is worth another look.