The 20-teens and a bit before has been the era of movies based on comic books. Some say the 1990s through early 2000s were the era of movies based on video games. (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) I don’t believe there ever was an era where the bulk of the movies were based on a song, but this movie was. In fact Wikipedia has a global list containing 55 in total at the time of this writing.
Most of you children cannot remember a time when there weren’t cell phones and the Internet, but trust me, it existed and not all that long ago. During the time frame when C. W. McCall wrote the talkie country song Convoy Americans had just been exposed to and became enamored with another product you’ve never heard of, the CB (Citizen’s Band) radio. This was the first time we could talk with others from our own vehicles and it was our first foray into distracted driving.
The CB radio had legitimate uses, especially in rural America where farmers would spend many hours far away in a field out of sight from the homestead. It was not uncommon to see rural homes with base stations and very tall antenna so the house could communicate with sons and daughters out working ground. These were the cheaper “public” bands so everything you said was heard by anyone tuned to the channel.
Larger operations, like airports and land fills, bought the more expensive FM band radios where they had 1-N “private” channels. Do not confuse these with FM radio stations. Same tech, yes, but different range of frequencies, lower power, shorter transmission area.
We only had a couple of stations
I realize children of today can’t comprehend a time when there wasn’t Terabytes of music at their fingertips or an air conditioned vehicle, but, it really existed just a few decades ago. Tractors mostly had only AM radios. That meant there were only about 2-3 stations to listen to and it suffered from a lot of interference.
Towards the late 1970s and early 1980s we started getting AM/FM radios and air conditioned tractor cabs so you could have the windows closed and a chance of actually hearing the radio. Yes, we used to run with the windows open breathing all of the dust. Having a CB radio to communicate with others during the day made life a bit more bearable.
Birth of the convoy
The CB radio would have remained an obscure niche product serving its intended purpose but for the Federal 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. This act was in response to the 1973 oil crisis and a group of extremists looking to remove the joy from driving. They forced on a world which did not want it the 55 MPH speed limit and gave law enforcement strict instructions to enforce it.
Suddenly truck drivers found these wonky little radios quite handy and they told their non-trucking family members about them. Nobody wanted to drive 55 so everybody planning a road trip purchased a CB radio for $50 or less and got it installed. There were guide books published and special lingo. Everybody had a handle (you children would call them an avitar today.)
Social Media of the 1970s
The CB was your local social media network. You got on the Interstate and reached out to those around you. If you found a group you could run like Hell. Unless police were willing to block off an entire Interstate they could only ticket the last few vehicles so the last three vehicles were constantly looking for others to join the convoy.
Certain channels were unofficially designated “the trucker’s channels” and everybody driving on vacation knew to listen to them and, most importantly, participate. You see, on the road, these radios were used to communicate about speed traps and troopers were “smokey bear” or just “a bear.” Everybody wanted to avoid them. I do mean everybody. The original 23 channels got so clogged with traffic that in 1977 the 40-channel band plan was implemented.
When something consumes the culture the way the CB radio did, it doesn’t take long for songs and stories to appear. What usually does take a long time, in fact it rarely happens, is one of these efforts finds an audience which snowballs into what kids today would call viral. C. W. McCall managed to do it with “Convoy.” It told a story which grew in size and scope just pulling the listener in. Hollywood wasted no time in cobbling a script together complete with lots of squad cars getting mashed by big rigs. The song was released in November of 1975 and in 1978 Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw and Ernest Borgnine took movie goers on a rebellious squad car smashing journey that let everybody get in touch with their inner redneck.
Rebelled against more than authority
Most people didn’t talk about it at the time, but this movie actually rebelled in more ways than one. This movie had a black female truck driver and nobody thought anything about it. Contemplate that for a moment if you will. One does not ordinarily associate the term redneck with inclusion, but here we had a redneck movie which was totally inclusive and contained women having the same actual jobs as men. In the rush to get this movie out to capitalize on the fan base of the song, Hollywood let slip in social commentary.
Ernest Borgnine, he will be missed. Today’s kids may remember him only as Henry the records keeper in the movie “Red” but he had a long and well deserved career. McHale’s Navy was and still is a staple of channels specializing in old television shows. Ernest has this highly watchable “every man” quality about him. Everybody knew the face and voice of Ernest Borgnine and everyone misses him.
Ali McGraw had an amazing 1970s. Love Story was and possibly still is the ultimate chick-flick. As a child during the 70s I used to hear older guys talk about renting/owning a copy of that movie to help them score on dates but I was far too young to understand the conversation. Because of that fact though, “Love Story” may well be the most watched movie of all time. One thing is certain, everybody recognized Ali MacGraw after that movie came out.
Kris Kristofferson was at the cusp of mega stardom when he appeared in this movie. While he had done some “man movies” it wasn’t until he appeared in A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand that he became a household name. That movie came out two years prior to this one.
Magic formula of Convoy
Why am I talking so much about the history of these actors when I’m supposed to be reviewing Convoy? Because that’s how you do it. You take three beloved actors who bring their own fan base, create a script which loosely follows the story of a massively popular song, throw in some fist fights and a lot of squad cars getting destroyed and everybody leaves the theater happy.
If you were alive at the time, you could not help but love this movie. You know what? Even today it is a pretty good movie. Since the plot is one word, convoy, this movie had to be all about the characters and the high quality actors provided all kinds of lovable traits.
Yes kiddies, you really need to watch this one and turn off the phone while watching. Don’t just put it down, turn it off.