Convoy

See ya later, baby maker
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Sam Peckinpah
Starring: 
Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, Franklin Ajaye
The Setup: 
Trucker fights back at police harassment and finds he touches a national nerve.
Discussion: 

Who can comment on why someone like myself sees Convoy on my list and suddenly says “Convoy?! I need to see that NOW!” …but it happens. I knew it would have a lot of truckers, many of them hot, and it takes place at the height of the sleazy 70s, so a lot of that surely went into my decision. What I didn’t know at the time was that it featured Ali MacGraw and Ernest Borgnine, and was directed by Sam Peckinpah. I reveal with shameful candor that this is the first Peckinpah movie I’ve ever seen.

So we start with Kris Kristofferson as a trucker who goes by the handle “Rubber Duck” [because it rhymes with “luck,” apparently. Rubber luck?] and wears mirrored trooper glasses and is this big bad sleazy papa of the road, ridin’ hard and lovin’ the ladies. Fine. Other truckers traveling behind him include Burt Young [of Rockys 1 – 4 and Amityville II] as “Love Machine” and Franklin Ajaye as the African-American “Spider Mike.” Ali MacGraw, fresh from Peckinpah’s The Getaway, drives her little convertible in front of Rubber Duck [RD] and they have a tepid road flirtation. Then the three truckers are entrapped into speeding by Ernest Borgnine as Sheriff Lyle Wallace, who has a thing against truckers and especially for Rubber Duck [RD]. He shakes the guys down for $70.

So the guys go to grab a burger and Wallace shows up again and harasses them some more, leading to this ludicrously long bar fight in which a great many pieces of furniture are smashed. At point I was like: “This is a MAN’S movie!” because everything is hyper-macho and all the guys are roughnecks. Then Ali MacGraw, who is apparently a photographer on her way down to Dallas to shoot a wedding, but her car broke down, decides to be RD’s new trucker traveling companion. Her entire presence in the movie is never adequately explained. Her car broke down so she’s going to blow off her job and just take off with this trucker who she seems not to really like? The implication, never stated, is that she’s just so turned on by him that she’s got to experience that Rubber Ducky lovin’. There is a rough scene when RD kicks his last Road Ho, who was apparently a friend of Ali’s, out of his cab in order to make room for his new one, Ali. I was surprised the movie would be quite so on the surface with what’s happening here and how women are just tossed aside. Of course, Ali is never really treated like a Road Ho, she’s just a traveling companion. It’s not long before she throws a hissy fit about “what am I doing here?” and wants to get out. But a brief story she tells from her past informs us that she has a history of “doing things I don’t want to do.” Kris, you can find a less crazy traveling companion.

Anyway, after the truckstop brawl in which the sheriff got beaten up, the truckers are all in a line heading for the state line. WHERE they have been hired to drive their cargo to and when they’re supposed to get it there is never addressed. The movie treats them like they’re just free to wander the country as they please. Anyway, as they go they start to be joined by other truckers and a van full of “Jesus freaks” and other folks, until they have this long—you guessed it—convoy, traveling toward Mexico. The convoy grows and keeps attracting supporters and becomes kind of a national phenomenon, without the movie ever stopping to explain what all these other people are supporting. Are the masses, even those who are not truckers, really fed up with cop harassment of truckers? It seems like the movie is saying that there’s this huge national wish to rebel, but it never gets around to articulating exactly what everyone is so upset over. This leads to a second half in which all these events happen but have no real basis in the story, leading you to wonder why all this is happening over nothing. And lending to the growing suspicion that this may in fact be the dumbest movie ever made. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to enjoy the massive group shower the truckers and all their wimmenses take together. Boy, I guess I missed out, I should have been out there soaping up with the truckers.

Somewhere in here is a quote that goes “Hoo boy, these lonely highways sure grind the soul off us old cowpokes,” that I recognized as being sampled in some song someplace, and I knew it would drive me insane until I figured out what it was. I never did figure it out, and, in fact, I am now insane.

SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, so Spider Mike, the black one, peels off from the convoy in order to rejoin his wife, who is about to have a baby any second. He is wished well with a cry of “See ya later, baby maker.” RD warns us that Spider Mike is heading into racist country, and sure enough, next time we see him he’s in jail, having been beaten by Sheriff Alvarez, who sure knows how to work a cigar menacingly back and forth under that big stache of his. Why must redneck racist cops always be so hot? It makes me have mixed feelings.

So the truckers execute this sort of ‘twilight bark’ wherein they all call each other in a chain to get the message to RD that Spider Mike is in trouble. Then follows one of the glimmering stars in the firmament of false conflict as first all the truckers bond together to go free Spider Mike, then RD gets all pissy and walks off alone, and everyone treats him as though he’s abandoning their “movement” at it’s height. But he’s going to save Spider Mike, and soon enough all the others have joined him anyway. So what’s the conflict? They destroy the jail house and seemingly every building in the vicinity [and how do they know they won’t be rolling over Spider Mike?], and then the cops are REALLY pissed.

After that, ALL the truckers are planning to emigrate to Mexico [which seems like a rather quick and rash decision for a bunch of people to simultaneously make. And how will this affect the economy?] but it doesn’t happen because of some dumb showdown on a bridge where Kris gets the shit blown out of his truck, accompanied by some shots of Ali looking devastated, even though it seems that the two barely knew each other. But it turns out that Kris lived, the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

Overall it was fairly enjoyable. I liked the whole macho vibe and the mythologizing of these truckers and their culture and lifestyle. For example, at one point they’re talking about how Rubber Ducky is a “legend,” and you’re like, at what? Driving a truck? I mean, is he evading the law and picking up women and… I don’t know, what could a trucker possibly DO in order to be considered a legend? And by the second half, all of this ridiculousness has reached the tipping point. Like I said, WHAT is the guiding principle of this rebellion that has touched such a nerve with the entire county? WHAT is Ali doing on this trip? Etc. It stays goofy and moved quickly enough that it ends before one really turns against the movie, but afterward the questions press in, making you wonder if this really was THE dumbest movie ever made. And then you think, “Well if THIS is the dumbest movie ever made, where does that put Road House?

Should you watch it: 

If you want. It was mostly amusing. And it’s got lots of truckers.