Thursday, August 2, 2012

Convoy (1978)

This is one of the very few movies I can think of that is based on a song written and recorded prior to the making of the film. And it's not just any song, it's a novelty song. Wikipedia's entry for "novelty song" says that it is "a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect." So why on earth did Sam Peckinpah, the guy who directed The Wild Bunch, make a movie based on a novelty song? Well, sadly that can be explained by some personal problems he faced later in life. I won't judge him for that, or for making this movie. He's responsible for a couple of the best films ever made, and he's closely associated with some of the greatest actors of all time. But Convoy came pretty close to the end of the line for Sam Peckinpah. 

The song "Convoy" was co-written and performed by C.W. McCall, along with "novelty" his songs have been labeled "outlaw country", which to be honest, would suite a Peckinpaw film so much better. 

The film Convoy stars another outlaw country singer Kris Kristofferson. In the opening shot, Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald (Kristofferson) is behind the wheel of his eighteen wheeler screaming down an Arizona highway. He comes upon a Jaguar with a pretty young lady driving. He revs his engine and does some highway posturing and she in turn rides along side of his truck,  snapping pictures of him with her camera. neither of them notice a police car coming straight for them. The cop swerves to avoid them and pulls over Penwald. The Jaguar pulls over just up the road so she can snap more pictures. When Penwald tells the cop that the woman in the Jaguar isn't wearing panties, he's let off with a warning and the highway officer speeds after the woman. 

Penwald and his trucker friends stop at a diner where his girlfriend Violet (Cassie Yates) works. Here he meets the woman in the Jaguar face to face (she's played by the lovely Ali MacGraw). Her car broke down and she's selling some belongings and needs a ride. 

Should I go on? Do I really need to? You don't exactly have to be an experienced movie-goer to guess what happens next and figure out how it all ends. Even if you've never heard the song before, you've seen it a hundred times in movies and on television. This whole movie is like a really good episode of The Dukes of Hazzard

The villain of the film is played by the great Ernest Borgnine, A Sam Peckinpah favorite. He plays a corrupt police officer determined to give the truckers non-stop grief. The supporting cast is pretty good. Burt Young and Seymour Cassel are in this, but they've both made much better movies. Rocky (1976) and Rushmore (1998) respectively. 

The Dukes of Hazzard comparison really isn't that far off, with a few of the details changed. But this is really just cops vs. good ol' boys. With all of the same slapstick and silliness of the T.V. show. Where characters are injured badly, but they don't really get hurt. And the romance takes a back seat to non-stop action, politics and plot twists that you can see coming from miles away. For a serious documentary about union politics see a film called Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976).

If you're in the right frame of mind and don't take Convoy too seriously, it's actually kind of fun. I love that one of the female truckers goes by the handle Mother Trucker. But the movie hasn't held up well over the years (probably because America's CB craze is deader than disco). You should definitely seek out Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Ballad of Cable Hogue and The Getaway before you even think about seeing this movie. It's actually kind of fitting that it's based on a "novelty song". I would have to describe Convoy as a novelty movie, not to be taken seriously.

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