Sam Peckinpah’s penultimate film is Convoy, a Kris Kristofferson vehicle (sorry) about a bunch of truck drivers and their epic run-in with a corrupt lawman. The characteristics it shares with the other films from the late career of Peckinpah are not, unfortunately, anything other than the over-budget, highly confrontational, highly chaotic occurrences typical of the productions of Cross of Iron and The Killer Elite. The one difference in that regard is that Convoy actually did well at the box office, riding on the popular wave of truckerdom started by Smokey and the Bandit the previous year. But the uniqueness of that success is eyebrow-raising, too, for besides a chaotic production Convoy shares very few traits with any other film from Peckinpah’s career.
Kris Kristofferson is the sinewy truck driver known by the CB handle “Rubber Duck”, and his route across Arizona hooks him up with two of his trucker friends and a femme fatale played by Ali MacGraw. Their conflict with Ernest Borgnine’s crooked cop “Dirty Lyle” provides the main clash of Convoy, and the film’s title refers to the miles-long line of trucks that eventually forms in Duck’s wake as he crosses the Southern U.S. The escalation of the convoy itself isn’t too convoluted, which is to say that the pacing of this first chunk of the film is even and sensible. Preexisting animosity between Duck and Lyle leads to a situation of entrapment and extortion, which leads to the trucker retaliation at a diner, which leads to Lyle involving more and more policemen, which leads to the truckers involving more and more drivers. Ali MacGraw is just along for the ride (sorry).
One might hesitate to call Convoy “funny”, mainly because it’s not really a comedy but also because most Sam Peckinpah films aren’t comedies either. There’s a hell of a lot more humor here, whether it hits the mark or not, and that might be the first and most obvious indication that while Convoy has Peckinpah’s name next to the Directed By credit, he’s not entirely the one pulling the strings here. His friend and actor in Major Dundee and Cross of Iron James Coburn directed the second unit of Convoy, allegedly brought on once Peckinpah’s alcohol and drug abuse began to compromise the shoot (as it had many before). Peckinpah always had a special kind of wit, but a lot of the humor in Convoy is less “witty” and more “easy laugh” (also known as “not actually funny”). There is one bit, though, which takes place in a helicopter and involves an FBI Agent attempting to use CB Radio slang to converse with Duck’s truck. A hand reaches into the frame and discreetly turns the radio around to face the correct way, because the agent had been talking into the wrong end.
But it’s not long after that when Convoy seems to lose all focus and descends into a fairly idiotic face-off between Duck and Lyle. The titular convoy has kind of dried up at this point – how long can we watch trucks drive in a line and have it be exciting? – and the script limps around for a while before deciding that a fiery climax would be just the ticket. It’s not. Convoy could have redeemed itself with a more realistic ending, but at the end of the day it falls uncomfortably among Peckinpah’s finer efforts and fits all too snugly with his later films.
On the plus side, Convoy is also a reunion of sorts for Pecknipah and a few members of the cast, which differentiates it further from Peckinpah’s final effort The Osterman Weekend and may suggest the director still retained some amount of control over the entire process. Kristofferson had appeared as Billy in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and briefly as a street biker in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Ernest Borgnine, of course, reteams with Peckinpah after his fantastic role in The Wild Bunch; and Ali MacGraw plays a dumbed-down version of her role in The Getaway, presumably because something about women in moving vehicles just screams cast Ali MacGraw!
It’s a bit sad to consider those great films from a decade earlier alongside the dawdling Convoy, but it might serve to highlight the greatness of Peckinpah’s best with more clarity. At the very least, anyway, we can bask in the fiery awesomeness of the foreign DVD cover for KONVOJ: