I seem to remember this one from when I was a kid. But it’s hard to say. There was a lot of Big Rig movies when I was younger. Anarcho-Big-Rigism was once a thriving genre.
This example, brought to us by the incomparable Sam Peckinpah, tells the story of Rubber Ducky. A hard-workin’ trucker man who runs afoul of corrupt law enforcement and then joins together with his comrades to form a convoy. While the movie has the usual American themes of rugged individualism, in Convoy that individualism –the basic right to not to be subjected to the whims of shit cops, like that asshole Lyle– is defended through collective action. The truckers work together. They form a protest but one that lacks clear political demands. It is, rather, the wounded howl of the proletariat. Or, in this case, the wounded and angry horns of their trucks. But what are they protesting?
It’s not simply a corrupt cop. Indeed, when Lyle is at his most corrupt, shaking the truckers down for bribes, he is also at his most . . . Sympathetic? Well, not exactly. He is, rather, a part of ecosystem. Just your average corrupt authority figure. And he’s one that can be dealt with. He’s not pleasant but he can be bought. He’s something like what the truckers call the police: Bears. You don’t want to piss one off but you can deal with them.
Trouble only really emerges when Lyle goes too far and steps outside the game. He decides to lock up Spider Mike because of some hurt feelings. (Also because Lyle is a racist.) In doing this, he’s not only demanding bribes but respect. That’s a step too far. You can collect your bribes but you expect people to sing your praises for it? You want to be a cop and not have people hate you? C’mon Lyle, get a grip. Even worse, he’s actually using his law given authority to enforce his bad mood. And it’s in this system of laws, most of them unjust and arbitrary, that Peckinpah senses the real danger. Men like Lyle are annoying when they’re acting in their own petty interests but they’re also constrained by their own sniveling weakness. But give these men a uniform and the weapons of the state? Well, that’s when the motherfuckers get really dangerous.
This is a theme that Peckinpah explores in other movies. And it’s one that he might have explored more in this one. The unreleased director’s cut is three and a half hours long. The movie executives fired Sam after seeing it. After all, three and a half hours is a movie length only be reserved for part ones of six part series, detailing the origin story of some cheap fucking toy. They re-edited the movie to make it more like Smokey and the Bandit.
What could be in that three and a half cut? I have no idea. I suspect, however, that this movie would be a lot less comedic and a lot more bleak. That it would be a meditation on the dying outlaw, his territory encroached on by the inevitable forces of progress and law. That this movie would have been a lot more like The Wild Bunch. That sort of movie still exists in this one. If you squint, you can see it. It helps to know that it might have been edited out, but it’s still there. Without squinting, this is just a bit more of a romp. A sort of ‘boys will be boys’ type thing. In spite of that, it’s still pretty good.
One thing that jumps right out of me, watching this film today, is how okay we all were with cops being portrayed as assholes. That was the standard for a long time. When they weren’t corrupt and evil, they were just useless. Nowadays, they always seem to be some sort of heroes. Like Dirty Lyle, it’s not enough that they’re cops, they want to be liked too.
Like, I’m not all that much into individualism, rugged or otherwise, but I can tolerate, like and approve of it in its anti-authoritarian mode. Hell, sometimes we all need to say – look, I’m a fucking person and you can go fuck yourself. That’s fine. It’s needed. But America did something pretty fucked up with its mythology of individualism. It sucked it out of the bones of some random trucker who just wants an open road and a cold beer and fed it into superhero bosses, those holier than thou “job-creators.” The rich get to be individuals. But, you me and the rest of the shit? We just get to be an undifferentiated mass. Something for them to abuse and exploit. A sunk cost measured by gangs of simpering computer accountants. And that’s not enough? The rich even want to celebrated for it. They took that greatest of American achievements, the “fuck-you” and taught people to aim it downward. To aim it at people getting fucked even harder than they are. These days, it’s all people hating protesters and supporting the police. Calling the police heroes. The cops! If you can believe it! These dumb fucks even believe the cops! At least, they pretend to. There’s a whole cop fandom. People even buy cop t-shirts and hats to show their support. Of the cops! Like what the fuck, America? You’ve become a whole goddamn nation of snitches, ass-kissers and bullies. What sort of America is that? A pretty shit one, if you ask me.
Fuck the police. CONVOY!