Convoy (1978)

Convoy (1978), directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Younger people may find it hard to believe but in the late 1970s America went through a "truckers and CB-radio" craze. The country-and-western novelty song Convoy was a world-wide sensation, showing that American folk mythology is important everywhere.

This film, made during Peckinpah's drug-fueled decline, was an attempt to cash in and it became his highest grossing film. Like the song it was popular all over the world.

You could put it on the same shelf with other rural populist comedies like Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Eastwood's Every Which Way But Loose (1978) / Any Which Way You Can (1980). Peckinpah wanted to kick it into a higher space of artistry and social significance, but that had already been done better in Vanishing Point (1971).

The result is a mess, the continuing collapse of a once-great director. The lack of an actual plot might be forgiven in a pure comedy but ruins any higher goals he might have had. The comedy is dumb, the big slow-motion diner fight seems tired and pointless. The Dukes of Hazzard car and truck stunts and crashes are exciting enough, but also seem like items to be checked off the genre menu.

And yet... the imagery is sometimes striking. The actors who worked for him before sometimes seem to be remembering previous lives in better films. As one of the disk commentators says: what if this had been an anonymous director? People would be saying: remember that quirky trucker convoy film that didn't know what it wanted to be? That had some good bits...

Regarding the cast:

The chase scene where Widow Woman takes the curve too fast and overturns, spilling her load of lumber: that was a real accident, unplanned. They got it from several angles and stopped to write it into the film.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino with a commentary track by Peckinpah scholars Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons, hosted by Nick Redman, a crew that has done many commentaries for the director's films.

It is a frank discussion of Peckinpah in his decline:

Another extra reveals many inside jokes in the signage and character names. That's Peckinpah wearing headphones on the sound truck pacing the convoy. The Jesus Freaks are Kristofferson's touring band.

Another extra is the feature length documentary Passion & Poetry: Sam's Trucker Movie (2013). Many great stories.

Finally, there is lore that James Coburn (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1971), Cross of Iron (1977)) came on and directed a little or a lot of the film when Peckinpah was unable. I didn't see anything on this disk to confirm how much of that is true. Coburn wanted his DGA card and got a Second Unit credit for the film. He did some directing here but so did others.