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Convoy/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Convoy

In 1978, as a means of averting fuel shortages and to kick start a national conservation movement in the U.S., the government imposed a national speed limit of 55 mph. In popular culture, truckers were revered as America's last great "freedom riders." Big rigs took a seat next to horses, motorcycles, and muscle cars as the bastion of American individuality.

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Convoy opens with a team of three desperado drivers--'Spider Mike' (Franklyn Ajaye), Bobby 'Love Machine' aka 'Pig Pen' (Burt Young), and Martin 'Rubber Duck' Penwald (Kris Kristofferson). The three drivers are lured into a speed trap by Sheriff Lyle 'Cottonmouth' Wallace (Ernest Borgnine). After posing as a fellow trucker over his cb radio, 'Dirty Lyle' flags the trucks down and extorts money from all three under threat of jail time. Once they've paid their 'fines,' the trio heads to a favorite hole-in-the-wall to eat and carouse.

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Racial tension was sparked by the highway between Sheriff Wallace and Spider Mike. When the Sheriff shows up at the truck stop he goads Spider Mike into a confrontation by attempting to arrest him on vagrancy charges (knowing that he had extorted his remaining cash at the earlier stop). Mike resists and an all out trucker/dirty cop mash up ensues. By the end, every driver in the cafe has taken part in the assault. They leave the officers on the floor of the wrecked diner, sabotage their patrol cars, and head for the New Mexico state line in unison.

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By the end of the day word of the brawl has spread and additional truckers latch on to the convoy creating a mile-long line of big rigs barreling through an assortment of road blocks. The reluctant leader of the Convoy, Martin 'Rubber Duck' Penwald, is approached en route by a representative for the governor of Arizona. They agree to meet in a pre-selected location where the truckers are given amnesty for the night. Negotiations falter when word reaches the camp that Spider Mike (who left the convoy to be with his wife and newborn son) has been apprehended in Texas (a set-up instigated by Sheriff Wallace). Rubber Duck heads south and is followed by several of his loyal truckers where they systematically use their rigs as weapons against the local authorities in Alvarez, Texas. After Mike is freed, the band heads for the Mexico boarder where the Rubber Duck is met with the National Guard. Without spoiling the final outcome, the "Trucker funeral" should not be missed!

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Now, it is important to point out that Convoy was actually intended to be a block buster film. An interesting feat for this movie is that the script was written entirely from C.W. McCall's country-western song of the same name! According to David Weddle's 1994 biography If They Move...Kill 'Em: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, EMI bought the screen rights to the 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, which was originally comprised with fast and furious action backed up by cartoonish characters and slapstick dialogue.

It is well-known that Peckinpah was suffering from chronic cocaine and alcohol abuse during the late seventies. Seeing the script as an opportunity for a block buster resembling Smokey and the Bandit, which grossed US $61 million the year before, Peckinpah quickly signed on due to a number of financial problems.

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Weddle reports, "Peckinpah had agreed to make a comic-book movie, but as he began going over the script during pre-production he decided he couldn't leave it at that. This was going to be a Sam Peckinpah film, and he felt compelled to turn it into something more substantial." After throwing the script away, Peckinpah encouraged his actors to re-write and even ad lib their own dialogue. As Peckinpah's drug use became worse and due to failing health, James Coburn was eventually brought on board as second unit director and ended up directing many of the scenes with the principal actors. Peckinpah's status eventually caused falling outs with many of his longtime crew members, Weddles said.

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The film finally wrapped in September of 1977 with more than 800,000 feet of film (half a million feet more than was exposed on The Wild Bunch), according to Weddles. The film was ended 11 days behind schedule and $5 million over budget. Once the film was finally released in 1978, it was met with mostly bad reviews. Ironically, once the film was released internationally, Convoy would become Peckinpah's highest grossing film at nearly $46.5 million world wide. Despite Convoy's ultimate financial success, Peckinpah's career was officially dead at the film's culmination. He would serve briefly as the (uncredited) second unit director for 1982's Jinxed and would go on to direct his final film, The Osterman Weekend, in 1983 shortly before his death in 1984.

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As it is, Convoy is a great, big-wheeled version of Peckinpah's earlier Western classics. Despite the criticism levied against this movie, it serves as a prime example of the country/trucker rise in popular culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Reviewed by Texploited

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