The tiny genre of truck driving movies that were mildly popular in the nineteen seventies were a direct response to the popularity of both truck driving music and the emerging CB radio craze. Almost all of them are hard to find.
It's difficult for me to understand the reasons for the general obscurity of truck driving films. There are a few exceptions like Spielberg's Duel (1971) and Smokey and The Bandit (1977) which are classics in their own right, but the overwhelming majority of trucker flicks are relegated to rare early eighties VHS releases housed in giant puffy boxes.
Smokey and the Hotwire Gang (1979) is one such picture that nobody is petitioning for re-release, but it is an enjoyable piece of trash. Director Anthony Cardoza, a friend of Ed Wood, was lionized by fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as his name in the credits was always something to beware. Films like The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961) Hellcats (1967) and Bigfoot (1970) have cemented Cardoza's name in bad movie infamy. Unfortunately, Hotwire was never the victim of a MST3K skewering ... perhaps because they couldn't track down a giant puffy boxed copy of the movie. The nearly plotless film is a long unjustified chase, similar in ways to Gumball Rally (1976) and Cannonball Run (1981) but without the deep, brooding, intellectual components. It features all manner of CB radio action in unlikely places (like diner kitchens directly below a Dad's Root Beer clock and the backpack of a hitchhiker who uses his CB to beg for rides). Perhaps the crowning moment of this shoddy drive-in movie are the song lyrics that are sung over the end-credits by a made up band, Valerie Jean and The Wires:
"I'm a hotwire! Red-hot lady! Underhanded, deadly and shady! I'll be your baby! I'll be your lady! I'll hotwire your heart! I'll be your slave! Obey your command! Because I am a woman - And you are a man!"
In 1978 Sam Peckinpah (apparently addicted to cocaine at the time) took on the project of turning C.W. McCall's song Convoy into a feature length motion picture. It is always somewhat ridiculous to base a movie on a pop song, and incredibly, this same year featured another country song turned feature length motion picture - Barbara Eden in Harper Valley PTA. Convoy was released on VHS only once, put out by EMI in the early eighties, and bootlegs of the film were traded for years and years. It is now on DVD,
but the discs themselves have taken on a bootleg like quality. One
release from "Cheezy Flicks Entertainment" is the equivalent of a
bargain bin public domain release (y'know, the kinda DVD in which the
picture freezes but the sound continues, or the sound continues but the
picture freezes, or the DVD copyright appears on the screen half way
through and you can't get it off, that kinda thing). Convoy has been
neglected and abandoned for years. Could it be that Peckinpah was
embarrassed by the innocuous fare and washed his hands of the whole thing? Well, yes. Sam was willingly fired from the bloated production, often considered one of the most expensive b-movies of all time, and refused to speak to the media about the picture. But even if it isn't high-art, it still seems strange that a film by a maverick like Peckinpah has elapsed into this weird
neglected no-mans-land. It does possess the quality of a high-budget drive-in movie, but that's no reason to lock it in the closet like your one-legged child. The trademark slow motion Peckinpah violence is in full form during a roadside diner brawl and you can smell the liquor odor sweating through the gruff bodies of Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, and Kris Kristofferson - and forgotten 1970s "jazz comedian" Franklyn Ajaye. Perhaps the most enjoyable (or ridiculous) aspect of the film are the various reprises of the song Convoy as performed by a lush 101 Strings type orchestra. Here are some YouTube clips of the film: The opening sequence, the smokies cracking down, Kris Kristofferson trucking with no shirt (naturally), various scenes here and here and the ending here.
Breaker! Breaker! (1977) might be the most common of the small time trucker pictures and as far as I know the only example of "trucker kung-fu." A clean-shaven, truck driving Chuck Norris is hot on the trail of his kidnapped little brother in this picture directed by film composer Don Hulette. One scene features Norris driving his rig through the county jail - a scene that seems to remind us of the generic nature of truck driving films since a nearly identical scene occurs in Convoy. Hulette, of course, composed the soundtrack for his directorial debut, and had previously contributed music to the score of They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963). White Line Fever (1975), another trucking movie loosely based on a song, starred the poor man's Don Johnson, Jan-Michael Vincent as a shotgun wielding trucker who says no to corruption. The film has been enjoying a couple of rare runs on television courtesy the SPEED channel's weekly Lost Drive-In, the movie show formerly hosted by Bruce Dern. Some random footage of this fine motion picture (that co-stars Slim Pickens) can be seen here. Truck Stop Women (1974) starred exploitation queen Claudia Jennings and featured a soundtrack equipped with all kinds of classic trucking tunes, much of it showcased during a montage of truckers speeding down the highways of New Mexico. The old Vestron Video copy of this film is hard to find in anything beyond tattered condition and is always at risk of getting stuck in your VCR. The film tells the story of a pair of truck stop prostitutes and involves a none-too-clear, but completely typical truck driving movie tale about smuggling illegal goods. The film's advertising copy screamed, "No rig was too big for them to handle!"
The Great Smokey Roadblock (1975) featuring Henry Fonda, Dub Taylor and a young Susan Sarandon has been hard to track down for many years but is finally on DVD. The film involves truckers and prostitutes but, perhaps in this genre, that goes without saying. Several other trucker movies of the decade remain difficult to find and I have little to say about them since I've yet to see them. Deadhead Miles (1972) stars Alan Arkin as a trucking hero, features a cameo by George Raft as himself, and has a soundtrack by Dave Dudley! Other sure fire winners I have yet to enjoy include Truckin' Man (1975) which someone has provided a picture of in the comments section, the lo-fi trucker smut piece Breaker Beauties (1977), the Jonathan Demme picture Citizen's Band (1977), High Ballin' (1978) starring Peter Fonda and Jerry Reed, and the made for television trucker films Flatbed Annie & Sweetie Pie (1978) and Steel Cowboy (1978) with Rip Torn. Flatbed Annie & Sweetie Pie features a rather wild cast. Annie Potts stars with Harry Dean Stanton and Fred Willard. Supporting roles are filled by faded radio superstar Arthur Godfrey and the president's brother Billy Carter! One time comedy star Avery Schreiber, one time convict Rory Calhoun and Ron Howard's father Rance also make appearances.
VARIOUS TRUCK DRIVING FOOTAGE OF NOTE
Country picker Jerry Reed enjoyed the most crossover of any one performer in trucker pop-culture having both acted in notable trucker movies and having performed several songs with a trucker theme. This clip features an animated Jerry Reed saving the day in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
Two notable television shows spring to mind when I think of the truck driving and CB radio madness of the nineteen seventies. BJ and the Bear ran for three seasons (1979-81) and is well remembered by a legion of fans that long for a DVD release of the series. These same fans would tire of a relentless marathon of digitally enhanced episodes almost immediately, I am sure, as our memories seem to be much kinder to these kind of things than the reality. Like several television shows of the time such as The Bionic Woman and Fantasy Island, BJ and The Bear was based on a popular made for television movie of the same name. Two variations on the opening sequence of BJ and The Bear can be viewed here and here. The other notable television show of the era, even more elusive and shitty, was Hanna Barbera's CB Bears. This typical Saturday morning trash aired for one year starting in 1977. The show featured three bumbling bears that drove a garbage truck and solved crimes (but of course). Lifting an element from Charlie's Angels, the three bears received orders from their boss, a woman named Charlie, via their CB radio. One separate, unrelated segment in the show was titled Heyyyy, It's the King, which was an all animal version of Happy Days. Brilliant.
The creator of Convoy and former mayor of Ouray, Colorado, C.W. McCall is hanging in there. Here's an awkward music video he made just a short while ago.
In the late seventies, at the height of his fame, McCall had a line of toys. Watch this kid pretend he's the mayor of Ouray - what fun!
The trailer for Smokey and the Bandit 2.
Jerry Reed wears a crazy shirt while Chet Atkins tells a story about a one-armed banjo plucker and a limbless steel guitar player from an episode of The Jerry Reed Show.
Speaking of crazy shirts, here's some new footage of Dave Dudley performing.
Perhaps the only woman to enter the world of truck driving music was country singer Kay Adams. Her single Little Pink Mack, on the Tower label, became a minor novelty hit in 1966. A full length LP was pressed to cash in on the success titled Wheels and Tears. It featured two more trucker songs - Red Simpson's Big Mack and an answer to Dave Dudley's smash Six Days on the Road titled Six Days Awaiting. Here she is on The Buck Owens Show belting out her hit Little Pink Mack.