1983: The Osterman Weekend
1977: Cross of Iron
1975: The Killer Elite
1974: Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
1973: Pat Garret and Billy The Kid
1972: The Getaway
1972: Junior Bonner
1971: Straw Dogs
1970: The Ballad of Cable Hogue
1969: The Wild Bunch
1965: Major Dundee
1962: Ride The High Country
1961: The Deadly Companions
the Book: "If They Move....Kill'em"
The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah
By David Weddle (1994)
EMI had bought the
screen rights to a cornball country-western song "Convoy" by C.W.
McCall. It's lyrics told the story of a convoy of semi trucks thats
blasts past fifty-five mph limit and an armada of police carsn that try
to enforce it. B.W.L Norton wrote a script to go with the song's lyrics
and jammed it full of moronic slapstick. The characters had as much
dimension as Saturday-morning cartoons and action came fast and furiouse
Peckinpah read the Convoy script through
a fog of
coke and booze. The similary imbelic Smokey and the Bandit had grossed
$61 million just a year earlier. Here was a chance to make a box-office
smash that would put him right back on top again. Sam signed for $350,
000 plus a $2000-a-week per diem snd 10 percent of the gross after the
picture broke even.
Those close to Peckinpah were dismayed
decision, but he didn't feel he the luxury of turning down the picture.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in real estate and art
investments and Latingo Production's pension fund, and the rest of his
earnings hemorraged away on Porches, yachats, oceanfront apartmentsm
hotel suites, booze, and coke, he was having cash-flow problems. "At
that point in time Sam would have taken almost anything" says Kathy
Haber. "He didn't have any other offers".
Peckinpah had agreed to make a
comic-book movie, but
as he began going over the script during pre-production he decided he
couldn't leaver it at that. This was going to be Sam Peckinpah film,
and he felt compelled to turn it into something more substantial. Brain
bobbing in a sea chemicals, he was incapable of rewriting the script
himself, so nothing happened until the cast and crew converged in
Albaquerque, New Mexico, in late April. When shooting began, threw the
script aside and encouraged his actors-Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw,
and Ernest Borgnine-to rewrite and even adlib their own dialogue. But
the characters that they had to work with were flimsy carboard facades
and the scenes phony and contrived. The actors floundered. Simple,
straightforward scenes in the script turned into amorphous, convulted,
and often incomprehensible improvisationtions on the set.
Out on the highway, the chase and stunt
with the hundred-truck convoy were filmed with five cameras. Peckinpah
riding with a camera in a helicopter high above the action, attempted
to coordinate the movement of the vehicles below via radio. But the
logistics overwhelmed him. Stoned out of his mind, he contradicted
himself constantly. The coke-fed paranoia so overwhelmed him that he
spent more and more time hiding in his trailer. The entire cast and
crew, the trucks with all their teamster drivers, and the extras would
stand around for hours in the hot sun waiting for Peckinpah to emerge
and give order to roll the cameras. Finally they got tired of waiting.
"Sam has bought James Coburn onto the
picture as a
second unit director", says Kathy Haber, "because Jimmy wanted to get
his DGA card. Jimmy end up directing scenes with the principal actors;
so did Walter Kelley, and so did I. We had to because Sam was dropping
One by one the hardended veterans of
Bunch, who had fought the battles with him on picture after picture,
began to desert the sinking ship: assisant Newt Arnold, stuntman Whitey
Huges, script supervisor Frank Kowalski-and finally Kathy Haber. (There
is a detailed story of a an ugly falling out between Sam Peckinpah and
Kathy Haber, contained in this section of the book. To protect and not
remind anyone with knowledge of this I will skip it).
"I never spoke to him again
after that", says
Haber. Convoy's Executive Producer Michael Deeley, offered Haber a job
in EMI's Los Angeles office, and she took it. Whenever Peckinpah came
there during post production, she left the building to make certain
she'd never have to see him.
"She's gone over to the other side!"
growl whenever Katy's name camp up in the years that
"I knew that I had to cut the umbilical
Haber. "I had to. If I was to see him or talk to him I would fall back
into it and I I'd be lost.
Convoy finally wrapped on September 27,
Craven, who was editing the film with Tony Lawson, was on the set that
day. At one point Peckinpah stepped up beside him, stared off into
space, and said "I haven't done one good days work on this picture-not
one day that I really felt Id put it all together."
He had shot over 800,000 feet of
film-almost half a
million feet more than he'd exposed on The Wild Bunch. The picture
finished eleven days behind schedule at a cost of $11 million-more than
$5 million over budget. And they hadn't even started post production.
Peckinpah returned to L.A. and set bup
with Lawson and Craven in a small suite of offices just off Pacific
Coast Highway in Malibu. Post-Production lurched along in the same
haphazard manner that shooting had.Peckinpah's contract gave him three
months to deliver his director's cut for two public previews; EMI
allowed him five, but by March 1978 the film was still nowhere near a
final cut. It still ran three and a half hours long and had no musical
score other than the three-minute title song. Convoy was slated for
release at the end of June; if the picture had any chance at all of
making it's money back it would be in the summer, when audiences
flocked by the millions to see action pictures and comedies.EMI had no
trouble deciding what to do. It could remove Sam and still market
Convoy with his name prominently featured in advertisements and
For the first time in his career, Sam
a studio take a film away from him without putting up a fight. When a
Los Angeles Times Reporter heard that he'd been fired and called him
for a quote, Sam refused to take the call.
EMI's 110-minite version (actually it's
106 min) of
Convoy went into mass release at the end of June 1978. Amidst the
rubble of final product it was possible, if one looked hard enough, to
spot the glittering fragments of a once great talen; the old poety
still sang forth here and there in the images of the big rigs
thundering across the vast expanse of the American West.
But only briefly. Throughout much of the
Peckinpah was too willing to steal from his earlier work, regurgitating
old themes, sequences, set pieces, and dialogue in a vain
to raise a pulse in the stillborn movie.
Convoy was greeted by overwhelmingly
reviews. Many major critics no longer even bothered with Peckinpah; the
picture recieved its licks on the back pages, the whip snapped by the
second-string critics who reviewed most of the summer's other throwaway
The final irony of Convoy debacle was it
to be Peckinpah's highest grossing picture, the biggest box office hit
of his career. It did outstanding businessalong the drive-in curcuit in
the Midwest and South, and in Europe and Japan, grossing $46.5 million
world wide ($35 million of that came from overseas markets). As had
been done with The Getaway, Convoy was pre-sold to foreign exhibitors
on the strength of its "concept" and the name Peckinpah, Kristofferson,
and MacGraw. The picture turned a profit for EMI before it ever played
in nthe theater.
Unfortunately, Convoy's financial
success was not
enough to save Sam Peckinpah's career. The picture's final negative
cost was $12 million, more than double its original budget. For all
over its over blown glamour, Hollywood is a small town where gossip
travels fast. Those who returned from the Convoy location quickly
spread the word of Peckinpah's white-powder madness. Few studios or
independent producers were interested in putting in another
multi-million dollar picture in the hands of an addict.
For the first time in nine years, Sam
finished a picture and found himself with another to grab on to.