When they highballed over the pass,
Bulldog Mack with a can on back,
And a Jaguar haulin' ass..."
Convoy is a 1978 action film directed by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1975 country/western and novelty song "Convoy" by C.W. McCall. In 1978, the National Maximum Speed Law which prohibits speeds exceeding 55 mph is in full force, and the country's truck drivers don't much like it. Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) is one such driver, just going about minding his own business. When he and some friends - Mellisa (Ali MacGraw), Pig Pen (Burt Young), Spider Mike (Franklyn Ajaye), and Widow Woman (Madge Sinclair) - run afoul of corrupt Sheriff "Dirty Lyle" Wallace (Ernest Borgnine), a fight breaks out at a truck stop and the bunch are forced to flee in their trucks, the police in pursuit. Heading for the Mexico border, dozens of other truckers join them in their own trucks, until the epononymous convoy emerges, over a mile long. They communicate by means of CB radio. Rubber Duck, heading up the front, is thrust into the status of a folk hero. Will they evade the authorities and make it?
Production was somewhat troubled. Sam Peckinpah's earlier films, Cross of Iron, The Killer Elite, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid had struggled at the box office, and Peckinpah needed to do a successful blockbuster if he was to get on. EMI had bought the screen rights to McHall's song that chronicled the story of a convoy blasting past the fifty-five mph limit with an army of police attempting to enforce it. The screenplay was written by B.W.L. Norton, and was originally comprised with fast and furious action backed up by cartoonish characters and slapstick dialogue. Given the massive success of the similar Smokey and the Bandit, Peckinpah saw an opportunity in the script for the successful blockbuster he needed. However, unhappy with Norton's screenplay, Peckinpah tried to encourage the actors to re-write, improvise and ad-lib their dialogue, with little success. At the time, Peckinpah was struggling with drug addiction, so friend and actor James Coburn was brought in to serve as second unit director. Coburn directed much of the film's footage while Peckinpah remained in his on-location trailer. The picture finished 11 days behind schedule at a cost of $12 million, more than double its original budget. Surprisingly, Convoy was the highest-grossing picture of Peckinpah's career, notching $46.5 million at the box office. But alas, his reputation was seriously damaged by rumors of increasingly destructive alcohol and cocaine abuse. Peckinpah would make just one more film, The Osterman Weekend in 1983, before his death the following year.
This film provides examples of:
- The '70s: With full details like police enforcement (by any means necessary) of the 55 MPH speed limit, mullets, afros, CB radio being king...
- All There in the Script: Although not clear in the film, Violet the truck stop waitress is actually "Dirty" Lyle Wallace's wife. According to the commentators on the 2016 Special Edition DVD/Blu Ray, it was more implicit in the script and added to the personal tensions between Lyle and Rubber Duck, since RD is very clearly engaged in an affair with Violet. The only hints that remain in the overall film is when RD asks Violet if/when is she going to leave her "old man" (slang for "husband") when she comes back into the truck stop after the fight and lets Lyle out. He then says to her, "We'll talk about this later." Although it can be inferred from this line and the fact that she actually freed him that they are involved (in the same way she's involved with RD), there is no direct implication that they are married. It only exists in the script.
- Bring My Brown Pants: "We'd appreciate it if you'd bring a new car and a... and a new pair of pants."
- Bystander Syndrome: Rubber Duck is really kind of careless about some things and does a great job of showing it by nearly running off with out his compatriots, letting strangers and other truckers follow him, and risking the lives of alot of people by assuming it isn't his problem.
- Cunning Like a Fox: Rubber Duck is sly, cunning, and wily in all regards.
- Diner Brawl: What starts the whole mess.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rubber Duck and Lyle Wallace. But all the truckers have their moments.
- Dirty Coward: The Sheriff of Alvarez. He is a brutal racist who uselessly beats inoffensive prisoners, but his first reaction when the truckers come to get Spider Mike out of jail is to try and get out of Dodge. Lyle Wallace remarkably stands his ground.
- Duel to the Death: With a truck and a platoon of the Texas National Guard.
- Even Evil Has Standards: "Dirty Lyle" Wallace is visibly distressed when he finds Spider Mike bloodied after a beating by the Alvarez police, and solemnly promises to bring back word about Mike's soon-to-be-born son. It's implied that Spider Mike's beating is because he's black, suggesting Lyle, corrupt and vindictive as he is, abhors the racism of the south.
- Faking the Dead: During the final confrontation with Sheriff Wallace on the bridge over Rio Grande, Rubber Duck deliberately steers his tractor unit over the side of the bridge, plummeting into the churning river, seemingly to his death. Later Mellisa finds him attending his own funeral in disguise, where he explains his survival with the line: "You ever seen a duck that couldn't swim?"
- The Film of the Song: Convoy is based on the eponymous C.W. McCall song. McCall actually re-recorded the song with new Darker and Edgier lyrics for the movie, making it a Song of the Film of the Song.
- Folk Hero: Rubber Duck becomes this by the movie's end.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: When Spider Mike is thrown into prison by the Sheriff of Alvarez, Texas, a sympathetic janitor at the jail send a call for help by CB radio. The message is relayed from trucker to trucker until it arrives to Rubber Duck.
- Here We Go Again!: The very last scene of a film is a second convoy being formed, heading for Washington, D.C... and with the truck that holds Rubber Duck's (obviously empty) coffin as the leader.
- Hero Insurance: Considering the damage, wrecks, and loss of other things you figure the heroes all have it.
- Hollywood Police Driving Academy: The police officers who give pursuit to the convoy after the brawl in the diner crash their cars while chasing the trucks across a dirt road.
- Jerkass: Lyle seems to mostly just want revenge for getting his ass handed to him but he is also a Corrupt Cop who extorts money from people and has power trips off pushing others around.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: The Long Haired Friends of Jesus following the Convoy certainly counts.
- Non-Action Guy: Rubber Duck isn't much of a fighter; and lets his truck, wits, and friends do the work for him.
- Noble Fugitive: Rubber Duck is mostly a noble person when running from the law, even asks if people need help, stops to see if his crew is okay, and honestly cares for others.
- Oh, Crap!!: The reaction of Lyle Wallace and of the Sheriff of Alvarez when they realize that the entire convoy of trucks has joined Rubber Duck to save Spider Mike.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: We rarely learn any of the main characters real names.
- Plot Armor: Every trucker in the movie apparently comes pre-equipped with this, but especially Widow Woman, Pig Pen, Spider Myke, and Rubber Duck.
- Police Are Useless: Apart from Sheriff Wallace, who may be a Corrupt Cop, but is very good at his job, most of the police officers that try to stop Rubber Duck's convoy are either incompetent, cowards and/or brutal bigots.
- Police Brutality: Wallace asks a Sheriff of a little Texas town to arrest Spider Mike, an Afro-American trucker who has left the convoy, to use him as a bait to catch Rubber Duck. The Sheriff brutally beats the poor chap down.
- Re-Cut: Sam Peckinpah's original cut was around 3-1/2 hours long. Since he wasn't involved in post-production, the film was edited by studio staff and editor Garth Craven down to 1 hour and 50 minutes.
- Run for the Border: What the truckers are trying to do, after ticking off Lyle at the beginning. The convoy is collateral effect.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When the trucks converge on his police station to free Spider Mike, the Sheriff of Alvarez jumps on his patrol car and tries to flee. But he is outdriven by the truckers and crashes into an house.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: At the end Wallace brings with him an entire unit of the Texas National Guard, complete of an M42 Duster armoured vehicle, to confront Rubber Duck and his truck.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Rubber Duck appears to do this at a few points in the movie.