Comfortable and Furious

Convoy (1978)

What the? Um, all right, so I am cognizant of the fact that I just watched a film, and that moving images jumped around in front of my eyes for about two hours and there was sound and fury and all that, but I have no fucking idea what I just saw. Convoy–which came out in 1978 but looks at least five years older–is obviously being powered by something other than diesel fuel. My guess? Bourbon and cocaine. I guess what happened was that somebody (possibly writer Bill Norton) was listening to the C.W. McCall song of the same title–while high out of his fucking gourd–and was like, “Oh man! This is a movie, yeah baby, a fucking movie! I’m doing it, I’m going up, up, up, up!

Our man Peckinpah was probably coming off a four-week bender when the script was pushed in front of him. “You want me to direct a film about a convoy of semi-rebellious truckers who are just driving around for two hours? Really? Can I put machine guns in it? I can? Sweet. Freshen up this here drink.” Cause the end result is basically exactly that.

I’m struggling here, because when it all gets boiled down, I have no clue what Convoy was actually about. None. I can recite the plot for you, but that won’t really explain anything since the film is largely senseless. Rumor has it that Peckinpah was so crippled from the drugs and the drink while making the film that James Coburn (yeah, James Coburn) shot the bulk of the principal photography. Having more than one director is almost always a recipe for total garbage–see the last iteration of The Island of Dr. Moreau. But Convoy is even weirder than that.

OK, quickly, Kris Kristofferson is a trucker called Rubber Duck. He’s got this heavily begrudged but loving relationship with a cop named Cottonmouth (Ernest Borgnine, and yes, everyone goes by their CB handles) who sets up speed traps and extorts money from not only Duck, but other truckers, too. Duck doesn’t seem to mind so much. At a diner, Duck and his buddies beat up Cottonmouth and some other cops, handcuff the downed officers to the barstools and start a convoy to get out of Arizona by way of an old dirt road. Interesting enough, and I would even go so far as to call the film “Good” up to that point. But then, it just goes off the rails.

Once the impromptu convoy gets into New Mexico, they are joined by dozens of other truckers who travel with the original guys in solidarity. Just like that, a pretty decent action/comedy turns into a sort of protest film. Protesting what? Who fucking knows? I mean honestly, as a viewer you never know specifically what the Duck and his gaggle of buddies are against. Sure, they hate Cottonmouth and crooked cops and all that, but what are they doing that is so appealing? Because by the time they get to Albuquerque there are hundreds if not thousands of vehicles in the convoy and the Governor (Seymour Cassel) wants to meet privately with the Duck to discuss taking his message to Washington.

What’s the Duck’s message? Beats me. You know how parents do that thing where they converse but there are certain terms and/or ideas they don’t want the children to hear, so they are purposely vague? Well, the movie is just like that except that when parents do it you can usually figure out via context what the hell they are talking about. In Convoy you can figure out nothing of the sort since for all intents and purposes the film is talking about bubkis. Double bubkis.

Now, take a movie like Vanishing Point, which in theme is sort of similar. One man decides to do something, just for the fuck of it; just to see how free he really is. How free we all are. It’s a good movie with a powerful message that still resonates. Contrast Vanishing Point with Convoy, which was quite clearly trying to ape some of the magic from the earlier film. In Convoy, once they blow out of the diner, nothing resonates, nothing makes any sense and nothing stands for anything bigger than itself. Again, it’s as if the writer was thinking, “Yeah man, it’s like Nixon and the oil crises with the double nickels and big business and the man are all trying to cramp my style.

I got to write a movie about it, man. Right after I clean this mirror.” Except that he was so coked out, the movie came out looking and sounding like a fever dream; long, loud and ultimately without substance, narrative or meaning. Convoy is just a really bad movie, man. Terrible. Sure, Kristofferson was good and no one plays an irrational psychopath better than Borgnine (and Ali MacGraw was awful as always), but no amount of talent could have saved this film; a movie that can best be described as a tax write off for the studio. I should note that it took Peckinpah five years before he could direct again. Convoy is that bad.







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