Action, Drama | 110 mins | Released: 1978
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Ernest Borgnine, Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklyn Ajaye, Brian Davies
Our Rating: 6

Truck driver Martin “Rubber Duck” Penwald (Kristofferson) is driving through the desert in Arizona, when a woman (MacGraw) in a Jaguar E-Type passes by. They’re driving side by side for a while when a sheriff’s deputy pulls over Rubber Duck, who in turn sets the deputy upon the woman who was “enticing him.”

Proceeding on his way, Rubber Duck runs into fellow truck drivers Pig Pen/Love Machine and Spider Mike, when another “trucker” informs them over the C.B. that they are okay to increase their speed. The “trucker” also insults Pig Pen by calling his Mack truck a “pussy.” As they come around a sharp turn at 75 mph, they are caught by the “trucker,” cold county Sheriff “Dirty Lyle” Wallace (Borgnine). After being extorted by Lyle for $50 each and eventually $70 when both Pig Pen and Mike insult Wallace, the Duck informs Wallace that The Teamsters are organizing the cops to which Lyle responds that he wants no part of the Duck’s union. The Duck reminds Wallace that he is independent and Lyle comments that they have that in common to which The Duck answers back that there are also not many of them (Duck and Wallace) left. Duck, Pig Pen and Mike leave and head on to Rafael’s Glide-In where The Duck’s sometime girlfriend, Violet, works as a waitress.

Also there is Melissa, the driver of the Jaguar. Her car had broken down and is there for repairs; Melissa sells her car to Rafael, and she is also selling Widow Woman some of her things so she can have money to leave Arizona. The Duck arrives and reunites with Violet and meets Melissa face to face, Melissa informs Violet that she knows The Duck because he was the one who told the cop she was driving nude. The Duck asks Melissa if she has ever ridden in a truck and she says no, but is intrigued by him and might take him on his offer to ride in his truck. Violet then ushers him away to give him a special birthday present. While away Wallace shows up at the Glide-In checking plates. Pig Pen and Spider Mike start making fun of Wallace over the diner’s base-station CB radio (pretending that they are in their trucks) as Wallace drives around the truck stop, but when the waitress makes some noise in the background collecting dirty plates, Wallace finds where they are and enters the diner and asks Pig Pen how much money he has and he shows Wallace his roll of bills. When the black trucker Spider Mike informs Wallace that he has no money, the racially-biased Wallace attempts to arrest him for “vagrancy”.

The Duck enters (after Widow Woman had informed him via CB of Lyle being at the Diner with a “look of pain” on his face) and tries to break things up and smooth things over. But Lyle is determined and Mike informs him that he has to get home because his wife is due to give birth. Lyle insults Mike by asking who the father is and pushes Mike, and Mike punches Wallace. Lyle reaches for his gun and Duck kicks Lyle, knocking him out. Pig Pen informs him “well you blew Arizona…” knowing they will get arrested if they stay. Duck orders everyone to their trucks and begins to handcuff Wallace, at that moment two other sheriff officers come in (one of them being the officer Duck had met at the beginning of the movie). A fight soon breaks out involving The Duck, Pig Pen, Mike, Widow Woman and a couple of other truckers. The truckers prevail and The Duck handcuffs Wallace to a bar stool. After pulling the spark plug wires and distributor caps out of the police cars, they all decide to head for the state line to avoid prosecution.

The truckers drive across Arizona and New Mexico, with Wallace in belated pursuit. While on the run, Widow Woman’s truck rolls over, so she hops in another truck. The initial police pursuit is foiled when Duck leads the truckers off the main highway and down a rough dusty desert trail, causing several of the police cars to crash. Wallace commandeers the vehicle of one of the state troopers, but is also thwarted when Pig Pen and Spider Mike crush his vehicle between their rigs while in motion. Wallace orders that the local state police set up a roadblock, but Rubber Duck tells the police that the contents of the tanker he is pulling are explosive. Upon hearing this, the police clear the road block and let the convoy proceed undeterred. Additional independent truckers join them to form a mile-long convoy in support of the Rubber Duck’s vendetta against the abusive Wallace. The truckers communicate with each other via CB Radio, and much CB jargon is sprinkled throughout the film. As the rebellious truckers evade and confront the police, Rubber Duck becomes a reluctant folk hero.

It becomes apparent the truckers have a great deal of political support and the Governor of New Mexico, Jerry Haskins, meets Rubber Duck. At about the same time, Wallace and a brutal Alvarez, Texas sheriff, arrest Spider Mike, who left the convoy to be with his wife after giving birth to their son. Wallace’s plan is to use Mike as “bait” to trap Rubber Duck. A janitor at the jail, unaware of the plan, messages by CB radio that Spider Mike has been arrested and beaten. Various truckers relay the message to New Mexico.

Rubber Duck ends the meeting with Haskins and leaves to rescue Spider Mike. Several other truckers join him and head east to Texas. The truckers eventually destroy half of the town and the jail and rescue Spider Mike. Knowing they will now be hunted by the authorities, the truckers head for the border of Mexico. On the way, Rubber Duck gets separated from the rest of the convoy when the others get stopped by a traffic accident. The film culminates with a showdown near the United States-Mexico border where Rubber Duck is forced to face Wallace and a National Guard unit stationed on a bridge. Firing an M60 machine gun on top of an M42 Duster, Wallace and the Guardsmen cause the truck’s tanker trailer to explode, while Rubber Duck deliberately steers the tractor unit over the side of the bridge, plummeting into the churning river below – sending Duck presumably to his death.

A public funeral is held for Rubber Duck, in which Haskins promises to work for the truckers by taking their case to Washington, D.C. Disgusted with the politics of the situation, Pig Pen abruptly leaves the funeral. A distraught Melissa is led to a school bus with several “long-haired friends of Jesus” inside. There she finds Rubber Duck in disguise sitting in the back. He asks, “You ever seen a duck that couldn’t swim?” The convoy takes to the road with the coffin in tow, abruptly ending the politicians’ speeches. As the bus passes Wallace, he spies the Duck and bursts into laughter.

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Movie Notes:

Convoy is a 1978 action film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine and Burt Young. The movie is based on the 1975 country and western novelty song “Convoy” by C.W. McCall and Chip Davis. The film was made when the CB Radio/trucking craze was at its peak in the United States, and followed the similarly themed films Smokey and the Bandit, White Line Fever and the television series Movin’ On and B. J. and the Bear.

Convoy was filmed almost entirely in the state of New Mexico. Production began in 1977 when the CB Radio/trucking craze was at its peak, made during the same period as such films as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Handle with Care (1977), Breaker! Breaker! (1977) and High-Ballin’ (1978), as well as the television series Movin’ On (1974–1976) and B. J. and the Bear (1979–1981).

During this period of Sam Peckinpah‘s life, it was reported he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. His four previous films, Cross of Iron (1977), The Killer Elite (1975), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), had struggled at the box office and the director needed a genuine blockbuster success. Unhappy with the screenplay written by B.W.L. Norton, Peckinpah tried to encourage the actors to re-write, improvise and ad-lib their dialogue, with little success. In another departure from the script, Peckinpah attempted to add a new dimension to the film by casting a pair of black actors as members of the convoy including Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman and Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike. The director’s health became a continuing problem, so friend and actor James Coburn was brought in to serve as second unit director. Coburn directed much of the film’s footage while Peckinpah remained in his on-location trailer.

Peckinpah’s original cut of Convoy was around three and a half hours long. Since he wasn’t involved in post-production, the movie was edited by studio staff and editor Garth Craven down to 1 hour and 50 minutes long running time.

The picture finished 11 days behind schedule at a cost of $12 million, more than double its original budget. Surprisingly, Convoy was the highest grossing picture of Peckinpah’s career, notching $45 million at the box office. But his reputation was seriously damaged by rumors of increasingly destructive alcohol and cocaine abuse. Peckinpah would make just one more film, The Osterman Weekend in 1983, before his death the following year.

The famous scene where the tanker truck goes off a bridge and explodes was filmed in Needles, California, on a one-way bridge over the Colorado River between Arizona and Needles. The Needles City Fire Department provided fire protection during this scene. The bridge was soon thereafter removed as a new span connected the two sides of the river.

Peckinpah has a cameo as a sound gaffer during an interview scene. Rubber Duck’s truck is generally represented in the film as a 1977 Mack RS712LST although several other Mack RS700L series trucks were used as a double and as stationary props.

The original 1977 Mack truck, its on-road movie double and the only original remaining tank trailer are in St. Louis, Missouri on display at the Museum of Transportation.

“Convoy” by C.W McCall (a new version for the film, with saltier language)
“Lucille” by Kenny Rogers
“Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All The Time” by Gene Watson
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle
“I Cheated on a Good Woman’s Love” by Billy “Crash” Craddock
“Okie From Muskogee” by Merle Haggard
“Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell
“Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears
“Keep on the Sunny Side” by Doc Watson
“Walk Right Back” by Anne Murray

Watch Ernest Borgnine in High Risk.