The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Novels, short stories, memoirs, plays, comic books, journals.  Movies can be based off of just about anything, but one that never crossed my mind was a novelty song, one that briefly rose through the charts before it became a trivia question for all time.  The song is a 1975 gem from C.W. McCall that spent six weeks in the No. 1 spot on the country charts and three years later was turned into a feature length movie, 1978's Convoy.

The transition from popular song to feature length movie seems like quite a stretch to me, but maybe that's just my crazy opinion.  But as long as a studio is making a ridiculous jump from a 4-minute song to a 110-minute movie, they might as well push the pedal to the floor and hire an equally crazy/ridiculous director, Sam Peckinpah.  And big picture, it isn't as much a movie as it is a series of scenes with 18-wheeler semi-trucks driving around, a folksy soundtrack, and a lot of the cast spending most of their time reciting dialogue through CB radios.  If that's not a recipe for a successful movie, I just don't know what is.

Driving into Arizona, 18-wheeler semi drivers Rubber Duck (Kris Kristofferson), Pig Pen (Burt Young) and Spider Mike (Franklyn Ajaye) are pulled over by a local sheriff, Dirty Lyle Wallace (Ernest Borgnine), with a bone to pick. They bribe the crooked cop to get away but end up meeting him down the road in an off-road diner where a knock-down, drag 'em out brawl ensues, Lyle handcuffed to a stool at the bar.  Duck and Co. head out on the road hoping to reach the state lines before the law can get their hands on them.  With a friendly-looking hitchhiking photographer (Ali MacGraw) along for the ride, Duck takes the lead, but that crooked sheriff isn't going to let them go so easily.  But as the chase wears on, news spreads and Duck's little convoy continues to grow and grow.

Wikipedia (an always reliable source for info) points out that Convoy was part of a string of movies released in the late 1970s at the height of the CB radio/truck driver popularity.  Who knew?  That's what the movie is too, an excuse for a long line of 18-wheelers to drive in formation down the road, a lot of CB talk with far too many 'Breaker...breaker...10-4 good buddies' and Borgnine at his over the top, obnoxious best.  What I did enjoy was the stunt work done while driving the huge semi-trucks.  Doing dangerous stunts in sports cars and race cars is one thing, but these trucks are huge and the drivers handle them as if they were much smaller cars.  High speeds and sharp turns never looked so impressive.

As much as anything though, this is a very 70s movie about refusal to go along with the system and not trusting anyone in any power through the government, police or any sort of establishment.  Peckinpah's portrayal of this is less than subtle too, not helping matters.  As Duck's convoy grows bigger by the hour, government officials conclude that this is some sort of mass protest, and even when told the truth, they ignore the otherwise obvious truth in front of them.  Seymour Cassel plays the governor of a southwest state, I think Texas, who sees an opportunity to appeal to a wide range of voters by supporting Duck's "protest." But with Cassel's clueless governor and Borgnine's insane sheriff, it just gets to be a little much.

No matter the quality of the finished product -- and more often than not it was high quality -- Peckinpah always worked with some impressive casts.  Convoy's isn't the best assembly of talent, but it's a solid if not spectacular cast.  Working with Peckinpah for a third time, Kristofferson is as always very likable in his lead part as Rubber Duck.  You could say he's not acting in most of his movies, typically playing a laid back, easy going, drawling good old boy, and I'm not going to dispute that, but he's cool, I like him as a star, and that's that.  So there.  This is Borgnine that I don't like.  So ridiculously over the top, screaming his lines, those huge bug eyes glaring at you.  He's the bad guy you love to hate, but it's too much to take seriously. MacGraw, never a great actress to begin with, is here for eye candy with one of the oddest looking hairstyles I've seen.  Other than these three, none of the cast really jumps out for good or bad.

The story dawdles along for most of an hour, hour and a half and then the message comes out.  The establishment isn't going to just let Duck drive off into the sunset.  The solution is a little much though as he makes a break for 'ole Mexico, but if nothing else, for a split second it works.  If the movie ended there, it could have been a solid send-off.  But then there's another five minutes or so with a twist that negates everything the last scene just accomplished.  I don't really know what to make of the movie overall, but it's certainly a doozy. If nothing else, HERE is the song the movie's based on.

Convoy <---trailer (1978): **/**** 

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