Thursday 17 November 2022

Convoy (1978)


Off-List: Convoy

One of my favorite movies in my childhood was “Convoy”, so when it was time to pick off-List movies for 1978 I was not in doubt, “Convoy” had to be one of them. Rewatching it so many years later does make me question why I liked it so much back then.

Trucker Martin Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) with the CB handle “Rubberduck” has a chance encounter with photographer Melissa (Ali MacGraw) in the desert. He then joins with fellow truckers “Love Machine” and “Spider Mike”. They are tricked into speeding by Sheriff Lyle Wallace who then extort money from them. At the next truck stop they all meet up and a fight erupt that knocks out Sheriff Wallace. That makes the truckers fugitives, and they make a dash for the state border.

Eventually many truckers sympathize with the fugitives and join them, forming a massive convoy. People are baffled, what is all this about? This includes the local politicians who want to make some political coin out of this strange movement. Meanwhile, Spider Mike has to leave the convoy to get home to his pregnant wife. He is ambushed by Lyle and local law enforcement, beaten up and held as bait. The bait works, Rubberduck rides out to save his friend and is joined be a bunch of other truckers. Together they trash the town, free Spider Mike and head off to Mexico. Will they make it?

There is no doubt the script here is a mess. There is no purpose for half the characters, including Ali MacGraw’s. What exactly is it the truckers are so upset about? Why is Rubberduck hell-bent on being a hero?

Sam Peckinpah was hired as director and beside being in general a total disaster, he also tried to turn a script that was really just a song, into a Peckinpah movie. Something about a crusade for freedom, standing up against corrupt authorities and a heroic, but doomed showdown. The trucks lining up for a cavalry charge is very much a Peckinpah move. The studio however kicked out Peckinpah and remolded the movie into something akin to “Smokey and the Bandit”. The result is this weird comedy /doomed crusade thing with agendas in all directions.

But then again, it is also just a simple story about cowboys (truckers) who do not give a damn about authority and give it to the Man. It is just more impressive when this is done in big trucks. And all that trucker jargon sets them apart and make then real cool. At least to small boys.

Watching “Convoy” today I can see why the cartoonish car (truck!) chase through the desert made a big impression on me back then, but politically this is a very problematic story. Its counterculture angle is very close to Trumpism, and independence becomes vigilantism, which in turn is legitimized by degrading the legal authority to a corrupt and illegitimate entity (again, very Peckinpah). I just do not think I can board that train.

“Convoy” was a monster hit all over the world so somewhere between Peckinpah and the comedic mainstream reworking it got something right. I certainly thought so 35 years ago. Maybe it was just the trucks.

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