Friday, April 15, 2011


Convoy is a film that's part of a larger trend, one that started back in 1976 when Robbie Benson starred in Ode to Billy Joe, a movie based on a half-assed, yet exceedingly popular song. The trend continued with Harper Valley P.T.A. (and Convoy) a few years later, and ran on into the 80s with Copacobana (starring Barry Manilow), perhaps reaching its nadir in 1988 with Born in East L.A., from a parody tune based on Springsteen's ubiquitous late-eighties rocker.

Of course, the most successful of these was probably The Gambler and its four (four!) sequels, starring Kenny Rogers. As you've no doubt gathered, most of these films are based on "story songs." These are tunes that eschew poetry and lyricism in favor of an easy to follow narrative.

It's a style prevalent in country music in particular, though not exclusive to the genre. Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" became a dark and brooding film by Sean Penn in the nineties. And, inexplicably, someone turned Sheb Wooly's "Purple People Eater" into a movie thirty years after it topped the charts. That this film starred Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shelly Winters probably says all you need to know about it.

In 1975 "Convoy" was a number one hit for C.W. McCall, a pseudonym for Bill Fries and Chip Davis. Davis would later go in to release approximately 650 tacky Moog-filled/Wendy Carlos-inspired Christmas albums under the name Mannheim Steamroller, thereby ruining Christmas music forever. On a certain level that doesn't bother me too much, but Davis seems particularly smug in his achievement, which I can't stomach.

Convoy is far better than any film with this pedigree has any right to be. This is due in large part to director Sam Peckinpah. I'm not sure what kind of deal with the devil led him to helming Convoy, but it is the only thing the film has going for it. Peckinpah's trademark blend of dusty cinematography, grizzled actors and slow motion violence redeems the ridiculous plot and hokey dialogue.

The story, such as it is, involves a trucker named Rubber Duck (Kris Kristofferson) and his bitter feud with a crooked sheriff named Dirty Lyle (Ernest Borgnine). Things get out of hand when a fight erupts in a diner between the two and Duck and his fellow truckers have to make a getaway to the Arizona/New Mexico border.

Duck's convoy of trucks grows, as he becomes some sort of folk hero. But when Spider Mike gets pinched by Sherrif Alvarez down in Trucker's Hell, it's up to the Duck to bust him out. In a way, this is a lot like The Wild Bunch, except with diesels instead of cowboys. That, and this one pretty much sucks.

I am going to assume Sam Peckinpah was seriously broke and took this job solely for the money. Either that or his drinking had so alienated him from the Hollywood establishment that this was the only work he could get. It's sad to see a true auteur reduced to this dreck.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah • PG • 1978 • 106 minutes

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