Deadhead Miles is a piece of great seventies filmmaking. It’s not a great film, but a great piece of filmmaking. The distinction’s important.
Most of the film is about a peculiar truck driver, played by Alan Arkin, and his adventures after picking up a hitchhiker, played by Paul Benedict. Arkin’s truck driver is not particularly likable or at all sympathetic. He’s a dense, know it all jerk. Writer Terrence Malick opens the film trying the viewer’s patience with Arkin’s character, though he eventually becomes amusing enough. Miles becomes about waiting to see what he’s going to do next. It also reveals the culture of long haul truck driving and Arkin’s odd acceptance of it.
Benedict’s mostly along to ground the viewer, to give them some connection to their expectations of familiar reality.
Of course, it eventually turns out there should not be any expectation of familiar reality and Arkin maybe isn’t so crazy.
Well, okay, he’s always going to be a little crazy.
Malick doesn’t mess around explaining Arkin and Miles might be a great character study if Zimmerman wasn’t playing it as a comedy. The script could go either way.
It’s very short and might even do better shorter. There’s this out of place prologue before Arkin meets up with Benedict and it’s dead weight, wholly unnecessary either to narrative or artistic impulse.
Zimmerman’s direction is quite good, particularly how he handles the long driving sequences and the relationship between Arkin and Benedict.
It’s a singular, mildly rewarding film.
Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; written by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Eve Newman and George Hively; music by Dave Dudley and Jimmie Haskell; produced by Tony Bill and Zimmerman; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Alan Arkin (Cooper), Paul Benedict (Hitchhiker), Hector Elizondo (Duke), Oliver Clark (Durazno), Charles Durning (Truck Driver in Cafe), Lawrence Wolf (Pineapple), Barnard Hughes (Old Man), William Duell (Auto Parts Salesman), Madison Arnold (Hostler), Loretta Swit (Woman with Glass Eye), and Bruce Bennett (Johnny Mesquitero), with special appearances by George Raft and Ida Lupino.