Written by Terrence Malick, Deadhead Miles was hailed when its screenplay was first picked up by Paramount; one of its producers declared that “this script is so good that when Deadhead Miles is released Malick will be the most sought after young writer in the country.” The final film, directed by Vernon Zimmerman in his feature debut, did not live up to these expectations, and was shelved by Paramount until they began screening it infrequently after Badlands. It is also said that Malick is displeased with the outcome, and he has since chosen to direct his own screenplays.
Review (Peter Reiher, UCLA):
Deadhead Miles is a peculiar little comedy made by Paramount in 1971. After looking at it, they decided that they didn’t have the vaguest idea what to do with it, so they shelved it. Filmex, that white knight of forgotten and neglected films, persuaded the studio to let it see the light of day, at least long enough for a couple of screenings. Perhaps it will get further release, perhaps not. Paramount was probably correct in their assessment that it won’t make much money, but Deadhead Miles is the sort of film that could do a good, steady business as a midnight movie in the larger cities, so maybe the studio can get a few bucks back on their investment that way.
Strongly influenced by Easy Rider, Deadhead Miles is a true artifact of its era. The story, if one can call it a story, concerns a trucker (Alan Arkin) who works for a shady hauling outfit. He’s given a newly hijacked truck, complete with cargo but repainted and otherwise camouflaged, to drive to an unspecified destination. For no apparent reason other than sheer cussedness, he ditches his co-driver and takes off with the truck on his own. He has little or no idea about what to do with his truck or its cargo (thousands of carburetors), other than some rather vague notions concerning Mexico. He simply sets out west, and the rest of the film is his journey.
Early on, he picks up a hitchhiker, and a couple of small additional cargos. He’s sometimes a little worried about the police, but usually treats them with a superior contempt which is completely unfounded. Even though he really has nowhere to go, he’s in a great hurry to get there, but not so great that he won’t take time out for incomprehensible side trips. Basically, Arkin drives across the western United States acting borderline crazy, and that’s the film.
The plot synopsis might make it sound like I didn’t like Deadhead Miles, but that’s not quite true. It’s just that the film is very hard to get a handle on. Perhaps its point is best expressed by an exchange between Arkin and the hitchhiker (Paul Benedict) in which Benedict suggests that he might be crazy, and Arkin counters that he’s no more crazy than anyone else. Director Vernon Zimmerman and screenwriter Terrence Malick may be suggesting that everyone really is nuts. Or perhaps they are suggesting something else. Whatever, I found the movie to be fun, in a disjointed kind of way.
1.45GB | 1h 26mn | 976×732 | avi