In the Arizona desert, truck driver Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald is passed by a woman in a Jaguar E-Type, which leads to an encounter with a sheriff's deputy. 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" turns out to be Sheriff "Dirty Lyle" Wallace, a long-time nemesis of the Duck, who extorts them for $50 each.
The truckers head on to Rafael's Glide-In where the Duck's sometime girlfriend, Violet, works as a waitress. Melissa, the driver of the Jaguar, is also there; the car broke down and she had to sell it and some of her belongings in an effort to leave Arizona, as she's due in Dallas for a job. The Duck offers Melissa a ride; Violet is unimpressed and 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, leading to Wallace attempting to arrest Spider Mike for "vagrancy".
The Duck, having been warned by Widow Woman, enters and tries to smooth things over. But Lyle is determined, insulting Mike who is desperate to get home to his pregnant wife. Mike punches Wallace, leading to a brawl in the diner when some deputies arrive to assist Wallace. The assorted 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 after he forces a local youth outside the diner to give up his vehicle when he finds him possessing drugs. He catches up with Duck, but matters are made worse when Melissa accidentally causes Duck to veer into the path of Wallace's vehicle, forcing him to crash through a billboard and into a ditch, only infuriating him further. 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 in yet another vehicle, this time commandeered from one of the state troopers, is again thwarted when Pig Pen and Spider Mike crush his vehicle between their rigs while in motion. 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 anti 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, aware 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 a machine gun, 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.Kris Kristofferson as Martin 'Rubber Duck' Penwald
Ali MacGraw as Melissa
Ernest Borgnine as Sheriff Lyle 'Cottonmouth' Wallace of Natoosha County, Arizona
Burt Young as Bobby 'Love Machine' 'Pig Pen'
Madge Sinclair as Widow Woman
Franklyn Ajaye as Spider Mike
Brian Davies as Chuck Arnoldi
Seymour Cassel as Governor Jerry Haskins
Cassie Yates as Violet
Walter Kelley as Federal Agent Hamilton
Billy Hughes as Pack Rat
Jorge Russek as Texas Alvarez Sheriff Tiny Alvarez
Patrice Martinez as Maria
Donnie Fritts as Reverend Sloane
Tommy Bush as Chief Stacey Love
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 and 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. 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 man 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.
A paperback novelization of the film by screenwriter B. W. L. Norton (ISBN 9780440112983) was published in 1978. A more serious edge and less humor was given to the film's story and there are some changes and additions, such as no mention of Spider Mike being African-American, a definite hatred between Rubber Duck and Wallace, a fight between Rubber Duck and Wallace after Spider Mike is broken out of jail, Widow Woman getting married (for the fifth time) and a background story given to Melissa.
Features"Convoy" by C.W McCall (a new version, written especially 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
Convoy received mixed reviews from critics. It received an approval rating of 42% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 12 reviews.
On April 28, 2015, Kino Lorber released Convoy on DVD and Blu-ray.