Color, 1978, 112m.
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Franklyn Ajaye, Madge Sinclair, Seymour Cassel
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Studio Canal (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Geneon (DVD) (Japan R1 NTSC), Kinowelt (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Director Sam Peckinpah's career was widely considered to be in a downward spiral in 1978 when he made this big screen adaptation of a C.W. McCall hit song, one of many pop culture cash-ins on the unlikely CB craze grabbing America. His last genuine hit had been The Getaway six years earlier, while the films in the interim were largely regarded as disappointments but have now been reevaluated to classic (or in some cases near-classic) status, namely Pat Garret & Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Killer Elite, and Cross of Iron. This would turn out to be his penultimate film as his personal excesses would continue to hamper his bankability, with many citing Convoy as a low point in his career. However, time has been a little kind to the film with its striking scope photography and naturalistic trucker environment creating a sunny, mindless, easygoing drive-in diversion and a time capsule of a decade starting to wind down from its hazy, disco-fueled high. As an intro to Peckinpah it wouldn't work at all, but completists may find that it's mellowed interestingly with age.
Pat Garrett star Kris Kristofferson teams up with Peckinpah again here as Martin Penwald, better known by the handle "Rubber Duck," whose fortunes start off well by hooking up with perky photographer Melissa (MacGraw) but take a downturn when he and his cohorts, Pig Pen (Young) and Spider Mike (Ajaye), run afoul of a crooked sheriff in Arizona nicknamed Cottonmouth (Borgnine). Labeled as a threat to society, the truckers are sent on a chase across the American Southwest with more trucks joining in a sign of solidarity and the governor (Cassel) exploiting it all as a media opportunity. With anti-cop sentiments rapidly rising, the screen is soon filled with a barrage of dust and loud collisions.
Convoy was shot by a number of first-unit directors (with none other than James Coburn stepping in for a spell), and the patchwork production process to compensate for Peckinpah's incapacity results in a film with a somewhat inconsistent look throughout its running time. That's reflected in the HD master provided to Kino Lorber by MGM, which was previously run for a few years on the MGM HD channel in a softer, more noise-reduced rendition. Overall it looks pretty sweet with a punchier look than the film has previously looked on TV (it seemed to play on HBO for years on weekend afternoons) and definitely vaults over the shoddy bootleg DVDs out there, which apparently ignored that this United Artists released was still very much a studio-controlled property. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is pretty punchy with able support for the loud sound effects and especially the catchy country-pop soundtrack, which is still one of the film's strongest assets.
On the extras front, this one is just as loaded as the more lauded Peckinpah releases from other labels. In addition to the usual trailer you get a fine audio commentary with Twilight Time's Nick Redman and film historians Paul Seydor and Garner Simmons, which fits pretty well into the tone of that label's other Peckinpah chat tracks. If you're puzzled by the sometimes ramshackle nature of the film itself, this one answers plenty of questions and addresses the many personal issues in Peckinpah's life when this expensive undertaking went before the cameras. The much more eccentric "Trucker Notes from Norway" spends four minutes with Norwegian fan Anders Lofaldli, who explains the film's cult appeal in his country (it's apparently also huge in Russia), while the six-minute "Injokes, Friends & Cameos" compiles images and scenes featuring Peckinpah's recurring cast and crew who pop up throughout the film. Three incomplete deleted scenes are covered here in still and text form (Peckinpah's epic, original three-hour assembly is long gone, apparently), and you also get a slew of production stills, a featurette on the film's copious marketing material, a TV spot, and a quartet of radio spots. However, the real heavyweight here is the 73-minute "Passion & Poetry: Sam's Trucker Movie," which compiles some interviews originally conducted for Mike Siegel's Peckinpah doc with participants including Kristofferson, McGraw, Borgnine, Michael Deeley, and Simmons covering the rocky production in far more detail than many more highly-acclaimed classics. No matter how you feel about this peculiar example of trucker nostalgia, it's a very impressive edition that gives some much-needed context to one of the odder films in the roster of a unique American filmmaker.