In 1864, due to frequent Apache raids from Mexico into the U.S., a Union officer decides to illegally cross the border and destroy the Apache, using a mixed army of Union troops, Confederate POWs, civilian mercenaries, and scouts.
While driving through the Arizona desert, Albuquerque based independent trucker Martin Penwald - who goes by the handle "Rubber Duck" - along with his fellow truckers "Pig Pen" and "Spider Mike", are entrapped by unscrupulous Sheriff Lyle "Cottonmouth" Wallace using a key tool of the trucker's trade, the citizens' band (CB) radio. Rubber Duck and Cottonmouth have a long, antagonistic history. When this encounter later escalates into a more physical one as Cottonmouth threatens Spider Mike, a man who just wants to get home to his pregnant wife, Rubber Duck and other the truckers involved, including Spider Mike, Pig Pen and "Widow Woman", go on the run, figuring the best thing to do being to head to New Mexico to avoid prosecution. Along for the ride is Melissa, a beautiful photographer who just wanted a ride to the airport. As news of what happened spreads over the CB airwaves, other truckers join their convoy as a show of support. Cottonmouth rallies other law enforcement officers ...Written by
The "Smokey and the Bandit" target audience never knew what hit them when they went to see "Convoy". Used to a diet of direct-to-drive-in films they had no conception of what could happen when Hollywood threw big bucks and a competent (if distracted) director at the genre. What they got was something that movie historians are still trying to classify. A movie based on a CB radio song that morphed into a poetic homage to machinery; where trucks are turned into mythological monsters and filmed cruising through the heat-radiating desert to a score of classical music.
Why Sam Peckinpah elected to take on this project has really never been explained, although that decision certainly supports those tales of substance abuse, and the final cut is bizarre enough to also fit that explanation. It is an amazing film as it wobbles between self-parody and self-importance to a degree never seen before and never seen again until "Apocalypse Now". I'm not sure how much attention and interest Peckinpah actually showed toward the making of "Convoy". It has the disjointed feel of multiple directors or of a Director of Photography filling in many times when Sam was not motivated to make an appearance on the set.
Kris Kristofferson is fine as trucker "Rubber Duck" although Earnest Borgnine pretty much steals the whole thing.
But "Convoy's real claim to fame is as the film where Ali MacGraw's career spectacularly crashed and burned. She did not just fade away but shattered into a million pieces. MacGraw got into acting in her late twenties but looked young enough to be believable as a college-age girl in her first two starring roles; the excellent "Goodbye Columbus" and the pathetic but hugely popular "Love Story". Her age worked to her advantage as her two characters (particularly "Goodbye's" Brenda) came off as poised, stylish, classy and smart. She picked up a huge following of male viewers who would have bought tickets to anything she was in and she was generally inoffensive to female viewers. She was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, started fashion crazes, and made the cover of Time magazine. She also picked up the head of Paramount Studios (Robert Evans) as a husband dedicated to advancing her acting career. It was a done deal that she would get the lead in "Chinatown", a role that would fit her rather limited range (poised, classy, stylish). Her only obstacle was managing the transition to middle age in a way that her smitten fans could accept.
Unfortunately she dumped Evans for a short marriage (5 years) to Steve McQueen. Just how badly her image and career were managed after she left Evans is illustrated by her bad haircut in "Convoy". Just glance at the promotional poster and you may be able to hear the sounds of a million bubbles bursting in the minds of her male fans. The idea of "Brenda" playing a truck stop mama with short curly hair would have made it too painful to even contemplate seeing this movie. Her fan base literally melted away with the start of the film's promotion campaign. They never returned, the illusion had died. Ironically had they actually seen her horrible performance in "Convoy" they might have felt better, as the performance is so absurd it achieves a sort of surreal quality. But a couple years later they discovered replacement Jennifer Beals and moved on.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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