Deadhead Miles (1971)

Deadhead Miles (1971)

“We’ll have everything we need, like the Boxcar Kids — we can move!”

After stealing a truck and abandoning his buddy (Oliver Clark), a drifter (Alan Arkin) picks up a hitchhiker (Paul Benedict) and begins a cross-country trip filled with theft and trickery.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Arkin Films
  • Black Comedy
  • Road Trip
  • Truckers

Directed by Vernon Zimmerman (just before making The Unholy Rollers) and scripted by Terrence Malick, this unusual trucker/road-trip flick maintains a darkly sardonic and absurdist edge throughout. Malick’s screenplay is decidedly unpredictable, with plenty of quirk and local flavor:

… but it’s hard to watch Arkin’s consistently ruthless behavior without cringing, as innocent people are harmed for his own selfish purposes. Fortunately, Malick’s love of classic movies offers intermittent reprieves — as during a super-brief early cameo of Ida Lupino and George Raftat a gas station:

… and a sequence when Arkin and Benedict are watching (and commenting on) key scenes from Samson and Delilah (1949) at a drive-through.

My favorite “throwback” moment is when classic movie workhorse Bruce Bennett appears in cameo as black-clad “Johnny Mesquitero” and helps out Benedict on the side of the road. (It’s notable that Arkin is nowhere to be seen during this sequence; decency can finally prevail.)

[As a side note, I had to look up Bennett to see what else he starred in, and noticed that he had supporting roles in Strategic Air Command (1955), Angels in the Outfield (1951), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1947), and Mildred Pierce (1945) (as “Bert Pierce”).]

Wikipedia’s entry provides a succinct yet accurate overview of what actually happens throughout this film, and I refer readers to that if they’re curious; mostly, it comes across as an absurd commentary on the randomness of life, and a cautionary tale against ever being too gullible.

Note: Loretta Swit can be seen here in her first role, as “Lady With Glass Eye” (her bizarre scene jives with the rest of the film’s odd sensibility).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Good use of authentic shooting locations

  • Effective cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look if you’re curious and/or an Arkin fan. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Deadhead Miles (1971)

  1. First viewing (5/17/21). Skip it.

    This dog of a (now-forgotten-for-good-reason) ‘comedy’ miscasts the talented Arkin (who can do next-to-nothing here) for a pretty hopeless script by Malick (!), of all people.

    A couple of scenes work very mildly, I suppose, but most scenes are simply confusing. Worse, there’s no conclusion.

    This joins the list of titles which Peary pointlessly included as being things film fanatics should pay attention to. It’s a film that is nearly impossible to find – gee, what a surprise! #NotASurprise

Leave a Reply