Sam Peckinpah's classic road-movie based around the hit song by C.W. McCall. Long-distance trucker Rubber Duck (Kristofferson) is on the run from corrupt sheriff Lyle Wallace (Borgnine). He makes a call on his CB radio asking for assistance from other truckers, many of whom have also fallen foul of Wallace in the past. What follows is a massive truckers' convoy, plenty of CB banter, and a whole lot of smashed-up police cars.
Can you make a movie based on a song? 10-4, good buddy! A truly strange film, combining a legendary director (Sam Peckinpah), and a story based on C.W. McCall's country song of the same name. Kris Kristofferson, known as the fictional, legendary road cowboy "Rubber Duck", plays by his own rules, kicking ass and taking names in his giant Mack truck. Unfortunately for him, his long-time nemesis, Sheriff Lyle "Cottonmouth" Wallace (played by the always excellent Ernest Borgnine), is relentless in making Rubber Duck's life as miserable as possible. He busts the Duck and his group for speeding, and shakes them down for cash. Later, all hell breaks loose between Rubber Duck and the law at a truck stop diner in Arizona (a seemingly never ending and overly brutal fight scene), and just like that, Rubber Duck and his trucking buddies are on the run. Lucky for the Duck, he's got company in his big rig: Melissa (played vacantly by Ali MacGraw), a woman he met in the opening scene, and again, conveniently at the diner, needs a ride to a airport and somehow thinks jumping in Rubber Ruck's big rig as they bolt from the police is the best option.
Their plan is to cross the state line, as if that will absolve them from the huge assault that just occurred. As they cross into New Mexico, word has obviously spread of the Duck's "heroics", and more and more colorful personalities in 18-wheelers join the party on the road. Yes, this is the beginning of a serious convoy! This is where the film takes a bizarre turn. Suddenly, the news is reporting the convoy as a rolling protest; truckers are interviewed as they drive, complaining about racism, pay, law enforcement, and all other kinds of things, which is a truly jarring change of tone for the film. Prior to that, it was goofy, Smokey and the Bandit, Dukes of Hazzard type fun, now it's a political film? None of this works, because Duck simply never offers any reason as to why he's leading the convoy. He even meets with the governor (Seymour Cassel), who wants to use him to capture the "everyman" vote, but the Duck gets news that one of his brethren, "Spider Mike" has been beaten and jailed. This results in Rubber Duck and his road brothers destroying a small town, smashing into the jail with their trucks to free Spider Mike and further enrage Cottonmouth, who always seems to be wherever the Duck is.
All things at a breaking point, Duck and his gigantic convoy need an end game. And they have it, Mexico! They speak Spanglish over their CB radios, dreaming of their new lives south of the border, but while driving through a small town, an ice cream truck accident separates the Duck from his convoy. This is it folks. The Duck has to go it alone. He boots Melissa out of the truck, and tears across a small bridge that crosses the Rio Grande to take on soldiers, a tank, and Cottonmouth aiming a gigantic machine gun at him. I won't spoil the ending here, it needs to be seen to be believed.
The film was released in 1978, a year after Smokey and the Bandit, a year before Dukes of Hazzard, and during the CB (Citizen's Band) radio craze . It's clear this was a blatant cash grab playing off all these things, as well the immensely popular titular song, Peckinpah's name, and Kristofferson's popularity. Peckinpah used cocaine heavily throughout the production, was almost fired, and ran way over time and budget, and it shows. The film can't decide if it's some kind of a western, a protest movie, or a comedy. Nothing works as logic or drama. The films often drags, even in action scenes, with extended shots in slow motion. Ali MacGraw is awful, but to be fair, her character is completely unnecessary. There are a few bright spots, Borgnine is massively entertaining playing a bad cop, and Kristofferson definitely has charisma. Some of the chase scenes and stunt work feature very impressive work. Too bad all of that hangs on such a dopey script and schizophrenic direction.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Convoy comes as a BD50 Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase slipcase, and loads in region A only. The film defaults into English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and there are no subtitles.
The video on this release is an 2:35:1 AVC encode. The beginning, featuring clear blue skies in the desert, is very rough. Excessive grain and noise persist throughout the long opening sequence. There's also a distracting flickering effect during these scenes. There's occasional bouts of dirt, scratches, and other source anomalies, but they are infrequent. The detail is often very good in close-ups and medium shots, and all the trucks exhibit very fine definition and texture. The truck stop diner, or any of the night driving scenes are low lit, soft, and noisy, standing out as the poorest examples of the video. Conversely, there's a standout scene featuring Rubber Duck being interviewed as he's hauling it down the highway. All these shots show terrific detail, and the color on the interviewer's purple jacket looks vivid, but natural. The film as a whole presents a very bright, slightly washed-out appearance, but, as most of it takes place outdoors in sunny desert locales, it's not out of place. I noticed some weird source issues, for example at 3:44, there's a strange blue flash frame, and at 1:09:54, a large film scratch, but overall, this is a pretty sharp and generally appealing presentation for a film put out nearly 40 years ago.
There are two audio tracks, both English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0: the feature audio, and the commentary audio. The feature audio does a good job reproducing the sounds of the trucks: the highs of the squealing brakes, the loud rumble of their gigantic engines, and the over-the-top blaring of their horns. Occasionally, the soundtrack gets a bit too realistic. It's hard to hear dialogue in scenes when they're talking in the cab of a monstrous 18-wheeler barreling down the highway. I head some strange phasing issues, one at 1:19:25, as Rubber Duck enters a tent, and again at 1:24:24, but these moments are measured in seconds. The soundtrack as a whole isn't very directional, but features good clarity, and certainly sounds better than it ever has.
Audio Commentary By Film Historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons & Nick Redman - Very informative, frequently interesting, and refreshingly honest commentary on the film. In fact, most of the conversation is about how uneven and disappointing the film is, with respect to Sam Peckinpah's other films.
Passion & Poetry - Sam's Trucker Movie (HD, 73 min) - A very entertaining behind the scenes documentary on the making of the film. Interviews with the producer, Sam Peckinpah's assistant, Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw, and others illuminate the struggles of making the movie, Sam's mood swings, and the success of the film financially. Again, this skews rather negative regarding Sam Peckinpah's role in the film, and some of the subject matter here is covered in the commentary.
US TV Spot (HD, 1 min) - 4x3 vintage TV spot.
US Radio Spots (HD, 3 min) - Four promotional spots play back to back.
"Promoting Convoy" Featurette (HD, 5 min) - A video slideshow of posters and promotional material from around the world, including Germany, Russia, Hungary, and many other countries.
Three Deleted Scenes (HD, 5 min) - Since none of the footage survived involving the deleted scenes, production stills play over music with script notes.
Injokes, Friends, & Cameos (HD, 6 min) - Very fun video detailing all the hidden Easter eggs in the movie, and there's a lot of them. One example is "Paulie Trucking", signage on Burt Young's ("Paulie" in the "Rocky" series) truck in the movie. There's numerous nods to other friends of Peckinpah, cast, and crew members.
More Production Stills (HD, 3 min) - A montage of production stills over music.
Trucker Notes From Norway (HD, 3 min)- A Norwegian man talks about the Mack truck driven by Rubber Duck in the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 4 min) - 16x9 trailer which looks out of aspect, or possibly a weird zoom of a 4x3 source.
As a child of the 70s, I remember just how cool Kris Kristofferson, CB radios, and Smokey and the Bandit were at the time. I first saw Convoy on VHS in 1985, and as a teenager, evoking memories of my childhood, I just loved the movie. Thirty years later, I smiled reminiscing on the movie, but the sinking realization of just how messy it was at times can't be avoided. Still, there's a good nostalgic feeling people from the 70s likely will experience and despite all the flaws, I think fans of Convoy will find this a great upgrade from the DVD. It's the best it's ever looked or sounded, and the large assortment of extras and interesting commentary really present the definitive release. I'm going to contradict myself here, but I am recommending a rental for non-fans, if only just to see what a weird slice of 70s culture this is.