The portrayal of movie truckers is not unlike how American Indians were seen during the heyday of the American cowboy west. They have not always been seen favorably in the flicks. In other words…the way movies show truckers is a mixed bag. Think of it like the well-known Sergio Leone western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The latter two categories, “bad and ugly,” are not always strictly defined.
The “Good,” however (at least in the movies) is easier to define. It is none other than Clint Eastwood. In the so-called Italian-made Sergio Leone westerns. And of course, we see him later as the good guy again in another trucker movie.
In “Every Which Way But Loose,” he stars with ape-like Clyde as an amateur boxer.
Since that movie was mostly forgettable, let’s look harder at the bad trucker.
The really bad, and ugly, too, is J. D. Walsh. He was well-known for his amazingly diverse character roles.
And we see him at his best (or worst) as the scariest trucker ever seen in the movies: “Red Barr. “
The film is “Breakdown.”
Trucker Red graciously stops to help hero Kurt Russell when our hero’s own Cherokee Jeep vehicle breaks down.
But don’t let this fool you.
As the plot unfolds, Russell loses his wife to the kidnapping (or we should say wife-napping) trucker Red.
There are chases, fights, and bad characters you first thought were good such as a crooked sheriff.
The plot twists continue till Russell is reunited with his wife.
The trucker comes to a bad end when his semi-truck falls off a bridge and he is crushed to death.
The opposite of Red is “Smokey,” of course.
Who’s played by the world’s best “good ole boy” Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
He and memorable Jerry Reed are two truckers on a wild ride hauling beer from Texas to Georgia.
They are chased by another memorable character played by Jackie Gleason. He is sheriff Buford T. Justice.
Just about everyone’s seen it because it was the second highest grossing movie of 1977, behind only “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”
For anyone who doubted its popularity, the beer brand being hauled was Coors. At the time, it was sold only in areas east of Oklahoma. The movie was like a free ad for Coors.
Also of note in the movie: Burt Reynolds played the part with his real-life girlfriend of the time: Sally Field.
The trucks used in the film were Kenworth W-900 models.
PS: If you were too young to have seen the movie at the time, there were two other sequels.
Since we’re still talking about good guys, perhaps the world’s second most famous movie trucker is Martin Penwald, or Kris Krisfofferson.
Known in the film “Convoy” as “Rubber Duck.”
Kristofferson before the film was better known as a songwriter with perhaps his best known “Me and Bobby McGee.”
A Mack truck was used in the film. The hood ornament of a Rubber Duck gained immortality by being sold as a separate item.
They are routinely still offered for sale via the Internet.
Another good guy in the movies was Chuck Norris.
He is a former karate teacher whose films include “Good Guys Wear Black.” He does some of his fighting aboard an 18-wheeler in “Breaker! Breaker!”
One reviewer said:
“It’s 1977 and everyone wants to be a trucker. That was the craze. So someone figured to put some Karate and some trucks together.”
Lots of vehicle chases and crashes, and some kung fu as well.
Another good guy trucker largely forgotten today is Jan-Michael Vincent, a former “pretty boy” actor whose short-lived film credits included “White Line Fever.”
It’s the story of an Air Force veteran who decides to enter the trucking business to earn a good living for his family.
Unfortunately, the business has been overtaken by organized crime.
The hero and his 1974 Ford 1974 Ford WT9000 cab over rig with a Cummins turbo diesel engine nicknamed “Blue Mule!” fights back.
This film, if nothing else, added the phrase of “White Line Fever” to most vocabularies (meaning addicted to trucking).
“Black Dog,” which in trucker terms means the visions’ drivers get when terribly tired, also added to movie-goers’ vocabulary.
Patrick Swayze plays Jack Crews who is a good guy tricked into hauling a load of illegal firearms. Swayze actually drove an 18-wheeler truck in the film.
One of the best and most famous trucking movies ever had both a really good guy and a really, really bad one.
It was made for TV.
In fact, it’s often described as the best ever made-for-tv movie.
“Duel” was also famous for its director: Steven Spielberg’ first movie.
Dennis Hopper of television’s “Gunsmoke” fame is a motorist driving around in a red Plymouth Valiant (those who remember the world’s longest running television western remember him as good-natured “Chester”).
Chester in this film makes the mistake of passing a dirty truck tanker.
The truck driver, who is never seen, for some reason gets angry.
Very, very angry.
The trucker gives chase, via on the road.
Hopper barely escapes with his life.
In one harrowing scene, he thinks he is safe in a glass telephone booth (no longer found anywhere) when the truck driver plows right through the glass in his 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker.
There are a lot of unforgettable-looking trucks in the “Road Warrior” movies. The vehicles of the future are unforgettable because of their heavy fortifications built around them like miniature castle-and-moat-protected cities in the middle ages.
Actor Mel Gibson famously drives a semi-truck supposedly full of ultra-valuable fuel to escape the heavily muscled bad guys.
Who could forget his famous line:
“Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” Gibson jabs his finger at his chest.
There have also been some famous movie films about trucks that these days just a distant memory.
The best-known may be “They Drive By Night.”
It starred Humphrey Bogart and George Raft as down-on-their-luck independent truckers in a black and white movie.
Unlikely to be seen today except on old movie channels.
Of course, most movie portrayals of truckers which were most prevalent and popular during the 1970s are not very realistic for modern movie-goers
During the 1970s, other trucker movies included “Moonfire,” a film about truckers fighting villains in Mexico described breathlessly as “the most authentic trucking movie ever made.”
Or “Big Rig,” a documentary about real life truck drivers starring actual truck drivers, not actors.
It’s all about the “real people who drive the country,” according to advertising.
Which is just fine…if you believe what they tell you in Hollywood. ###