As much as it's easy to look at CONVOY as perhaps the low point of the career of a great director, I think there are still a lot of memorable things about it. I'm a sucker for a decent cast and CONVOY absolutely has that going for it. Also, if you're looking for it there's some nice flourishes of Peckinpah's visual artistry throughout the movie. What always transfixes me about movies is the realization I often have about what a delicate alchemy it takes to make a good one. With the amount of money typically involved as well as the number of people helping get the thing made, there are just so many potential opportunities for the wrong thing to happen. That great films are made as often as they are is something of a miracle. And the process by which the great directors work is often so varied it would be hard to know how to always give them the absolutely perfect environment within which to create. Peckinpah and Kris Kristofferson had a strong kinship on PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. It undoubtedly didn't hurt that Kristofferson was not averse to taking a little drink at that time of filming that movie. Prior to CONVOY he had apparently stopped drinking and it's not hard to extrapolate that that must have shifted the dynamic between he and Peckinah in a somewhat significant way. So you've got a lead actor who is not as in sync with his director as he once was, coupled with the fact that the part had been offered to Steve McQueen (who passed) and that Kristofferson was not even Peckinpah's first choice which may not have helped things too much either. Add that to a film that is being made to capitalize on a hit song (and whose plot is based on that song) and it seems like a recipe for bad news. While the script/story is clearly the biggest issue the movie has (shaky foundations make for weak buildings so to speak), the fact that Peckinpah was an artful director who worked best in a certain way is also a dicey proposition in this kind of scenario.
I guess Peckinpah wasn't one for storyboarding too much and would often get into the set or location and start to then figure out how he wanted to shoot things. This approach could of course be kind of tricky when a production is dealing with dozens and dozens of semi-trucks which are difficult to get back into position to re-do any potential shots that don't go as planned. There's a story in fact (as mentioned in this disc's commentary track) about an unplanned truck crash during a chase scene which caused the production to have to be shut down for a day or two in order to rework the script based on the accident and it becoming part of the movie (as re-shooting the scene would have proved to costly). But like I said, you can still see Peckinpah the artist peeking through every once in a while and my affection for the movie as a whole continues after this most recent rewatch.
This disc has some nice extras and hats off to KL Studio Classics for putting it all together.
-Audio Commentary - this is a great track. It features film historians Paul Seydour, Garner Simmons and Nick Redman. You can't get much of a better trio to talk about a Peckinpah movie. Nick Redman is of course one of the gents behind Twilight Time, who have put out several Peckinpah films in special editions. These three have actually done several Peckinpah commentaries, including one for TT's recent release of THE KILLER ELITE on Blu-ray. That's a great commentary too, and it's partially for the same reasons this CONVOY track is good - both films are problems and not completely successful in what they are trying to do. It's fascinating to hear a respectful, but honest discussion of a troubled movie. The amount of Peckinpah knowledge shares by these guys is tremendous. They have so much to say about all aspects of the production and provide a lot of details with regards to why CONVOY ended up as the movie we've come to know. No punches are pulled in terms of talk of Peckinpah's troubles with cocaine and how that absolutely played into what was already a hugely problematic situation. What's nice about a track like this is that it gives me a renewed appreciation for the movie as a whole, as flawed as it is. Not that the reasons behind some of the problems make the film better in and of itself, but it all justifies my already lenient attitude towards it.
Stuntman Bob Herron talks about his epic car stunt in CONVOY:
James Coburn Talks about Peckinpah:
Peckinpah himself - interviewed in 1976:
Warren Oates is one of the greatest actors of the latter half of the twentieth century (for my money). While he was always given his fair share of supporting roles within an ensemble, he never got enough parts at the center of a movie. He also wasn't given enough opportunities to play some downright evil villain types. Oates has one of those faces that is just remarkable. It is a timeless face. The face of a modern day man or an authentic cowboy from the 1800s. Faces like his don't exist too much in modern movies today. We've traded in character for youth and good looks and it has hurt movies as a whole in my opinion. They being said, Oates is really the only man for the job in this case. This movie, which can be tough to watch at moments, would be far less palatable without him. What Oates brings to movies with his presence is some kind of melange of charisma and other elements that make you just wanna watch him. And as for Lee Van Cleef, he's also one of the best. His grumpy "perma-grimace" of a visage served him well in making him look like a badass in so many of his films. And let's talk about director Gordon Douglas for a minute. Underrated doesn't cover it, but regardless of that he was a man that would not be pinned down by any one genre. As Howard Hawks made all kinds of movies (and has gotten much credit for his deftness in variety), so too did Douglas. He made comedies like THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE films, and musicals like ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS (he worked a lot with Sinatra in fact) and he made a great noir with James Cagney (KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE). He even made one of my favorite science fiction films in THEM! He made all those and more and he also made westerns. Lots of westerns. Check out FORT DOBBS, GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS and RIO CONCHOS for a small sampling of Douglas' westerns. He made them well and BARQUERO is no exception. It's an interesting entry in the genre too in that it is something of a siege film. Basically, Lee Van Cleef runs a barge between one side of a river and a small town. When Warren Oates and his bad guy buddies want to cross, Van Cleef says nope and a standoff ensues. It's good stuff.
What we've got here is basically a strange westernized version of JAWS. It's been said that I love a good JAWS knockoff and it's quite true. Here Charles Bronson plays Wild Bill Hickok, but in a different way than we're used to. This Wild Bill is on a mission to find and kill the great white buffalo that haunts his dreams. He's basically Robert Shaw as Quint in a way. When Hickok encounters and Indian (Will Sampson) who is also on the hunt for the great white creature, they team up. So that premise is a lot of fun as is the fact that apparently Dino De Laurentiis had Italian special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi (KING KONG, ALIEN, E.T.) design a giant animatronic buffalo that could rear up and move around on tracks. Reminds me of an more versatile on-land "Bruce". And by the way, whenever you see Dino's name on a movie there's a good chance of some extra crazy stuff being mixed in. So you've got a monster movie on one hand, but a western on the other. Interesting combination to be sure. On top of all that, the cast is quite glorious and includes Kim Novak, Jack Warden, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter and Martin Kove. A wonderful package for fans of JAWS, westerns, and character actors (all of which I adore). Recommended. Oh and can I just say that 1977 was a fun year for fans of JAWS-like films in that folks could take their pick between this, THE CAR and ORCA (and they could have see GRIZZLY the year before)!