• Convoy

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: April 28th, 2015.
    Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
    Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    I recently asked a few cinephile friends to participate in an informal Sam Peckinpah poll. Pick one film in the following 4 categories: best, worst, most underrated and bad but interesting. The usual suspects rotated in the first two categories with a surprisingly strong showing for BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA as his best and THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND showing up often as his worst. Where things got interesting though was the final category. It was pretty much an even split between THE KILLER ELITE and this film. CONVOY.

    THE KILLER ELITE is widely considered the beginning of Peckinpah's artistic decline. It's a dog's breakfast of a film that combines an opening 40 minutes of brilliant improv and creativity with a substandard second part filled with generic nonsensical action and bizarre then-trendy elements (ninjas!). There would be one film after it (the terrific CROSS OF IRON which figured heavily in my "underrated" category) on the road to CONVOY but by the time Bloody Sam got to this SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT cash in (though that was more the studio's intention than Peckinpah's), the man who had made game changers like THE WILD BUNCH was lost in the fog of debilitating addictions and a deteriorating and often paranoid mindset.

    CONVOY was based on C.W. McCall's hokey hit country song about the then CB radio craze. A gimmick track like the earlier "Kung Fu Fighting" it hit a cultural nerve and a movie script was commissioned. Peckinpah wanted to work and after the arduous experience of shooting CROSS OF IRON in Germany with one budget woe after another a studio picture properly financed and shot in the USA looked pretty good. To the producers, studio and money men the Peckinpah name still carried some cachet. Unfortunately Sam wanted to make an antiestablishment comedy with at least some semblance of a message while the studio wanted a straightforward commercial hit.

    Kris Kristofferson plays long haired nomadic trucker Rubber Duck. His livelihood is hauling freight in his monster rig cross country. It's often tedious and spending time chatting on his radio with other truckers is his main way of alleviating that boredom. As the film opens we see Duck and some fellow truckers getting shaken down for cash on a bogus speeding ticket by sheriff Dirty Lyle (Ernest Borgnine). Turns out Duck and Lyle have an antagonistic history that involves many things including a shared woman. When a roadside diner fight erupts after Lyle unfairly targets black driver Spider Mike (real names are almost never used in CONVOY - all of the characters are usually referred to by their CB handles) the group make a run for the border after knocking out the cops. Along for the ride with Rubber Duck is stranded journalist/something-or-other Melissa (Ali McGraw) whose car broke down earlier. The rest of the film's almost two hour runtime will consist of the truckers being chased and gabbing on their radios with a couple of pit stops to rescue waylaid comrades and a shoehorned romance. Duck will become a media sensation, other truckers will join the "convoy" in protest and it'll all come to a head on a bridge with a showdown with the national guard and Ernest Borgnine behind a machine gun much like the one William Holden handled so memorably in THE WILD BUNCH.

    On any serious level, CONVOY is an artistic failure. If Peckinpah's name wasn't attached to it, it would be regarded as little more than a forgotten 70's oddity like pet rocks. The acting is wildly uneven with Kristofferson managing to look cool but coming off a little too laconic, Burt Young's (of ROCKY/THE KILLER ELITE fame) Pig Pen suffering from absurd costuming and goofy dialog and McGraw faring worst of all with her blank line deliveries. When Peckinpah has his characters in long discussions over their CB radios about "the man" and justice and the plight of the working class you can see where the direction the fabled auteur WANTED this to go. But his attempt at casting these long haulers as outlaws and a modern counterpart to the cowboys of old just seems laughably pretentious. Mix that with Borgnine's tendency towards the cornpone (which is the only place he could go with the material he's handed) and you've got something that fails as comedy and satire. Yet despite all that, CONVOY remains an eminently watchable failure. Peckinpah never lost his eye for a beautiful vista and some of the compositions here are breathtaking like the opening with its shimmering white sands that look like snowfall being transversed by monster trucks. The actors are all a likable bunch. The trucks are fun to look at and a few decent stunts are delivered. There's also a bizarrely fascinating train wreck aspect to the film - no doubt heavily exacerbated by the director's spiraling cocaine abuse. As Peckinpah historian Garner Simmons astutely notes in the disc's supplements, Sam could control his drinking enough to still work effectively. Cocaine unraveled him and destroyed his focus. But odd moments abound like Peckinpah himself in a cameo as a technician on a news truck and Borgnine on that machine gun.


    Kino's 2.35.1 framed 1080p AVC encoded transfer is decent but inconsistent. Grain appears a bit uneven at times, and minor print damage (usually present as small white specks) shows up occasionally. Close ups reveal solid detail however and the color reproduction is good. Some mild flickering and what appears to be mild scanner noise is visible in the opening scene. I'd suggest taking a close look at the screenshots but overall this is an acceptable transfer with good image detail and no intrusive DNR use evident. The sound is covered by an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that, while it won't be winning any awards, gets the job done. Distracting distortion is not evident and the mix makes everything clear for the most part. Sometimes you'll have to strain a bit when characters are gabbing over running engines though.

    Kino have pumped out a pretty stacked special edition for this one and the two centerpieces are the audio commentary and the hour and fifteen minute making of documentary "Sam's Trucker Movie" by Mike Siegel. The commentary features Peckinpah scholars/associates Nick Redman, Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons. These gentlemen have been doing Peckinpah commentaries for quite a while now and are pretty much the holy trinity when it comes to Bloody Sam. Simmons and Seydor have written books on the director and Redman was involved in the highly acclaimed THE WILD BUNCH: AN ALBUM IN MONTAGE short film (along with Seydor). The commentary is a must listen. The three have terrific rapport, an eye for detail and are never afraid to be critical. The film is fully put into historical context as well. The documentary is also fantastic - commentator Simmons shows up here as well as actors Kristofferson, Borgnine and Ali MacGraw. This is a really engrossing documentary that pulls zero punches. Producer Michael Deeley paints a pretty unflattering portrait of the late director but it's certainly interesting. This is about as far from the prefab EPK crap that's seemingly loaded onto every new release these days. Savor it.

    Batting cleanup you get three deleted scenes in storyboard form, a bizarre featurette about Norway's obsession with the film, a montage of worldwide promotional materials like lobby cards and posters set to music, a series of more production stills and USA TV and radio spots for the film. There's also a fun piece called "Injokes, Friends, & Cameos" that highlights goofy things in the movie that Peckinpah put in to amuse himself. And yes, the theatrical trailer is here.

    Parting Shot:

    CONVOY is a mess. But it's a damn interesting one. As part of the Peckinpah legacy or even simply as a historical artifact of the 1970's this film IS worth a look. People of a certain age and inclination also tend to have a genuine affection for it (I suppose the litmus test is one's feelings for hokey fare like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT). As for Kino's edition it should be commended for delivering decent AV and outstanding special features. The superlative making of documentary and gold standard audio commentary alone should make any Peckinpah fan want this. So - despite the film's abundant flaws - I highly recommend this disc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!