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In the print viewed, the first few credits were missing and many of the character names in the closing cast credits were illegible. Although the onscreen credits include a copyright statement for Paramount Pictures Corporation, the film was not registered for copyright. A written staetment in the credits reads: "Special thanks to Peterbilt Trucks for their cooperation." During the drive-in movie sequence, scenes from the 1950 Paramount release Samson and Delilah (see below) are shown on the screen. In one scene of Deadhead Miles, George Raft and Ida Lupino make cameo appearances, recreating a scene from their 1940 Warner Bros. film They Drive by Night (see below).
Deadhead Miles marked the first completed feature film for producer Tony Bill and producer-director Vernon Zimmerman, as well as writer and future director Terrence Malick. It was also the first and only production of Bill's production company, Biplane Cinematograph, Inc. A February 1971 Los Angeles Times article on the production noted that Bill first conceived of Deadhead Miles, named for the term truckers use for a return trip in an empty, nonpaying truck, while listening to country music songs, and that Malick knew a truck driver like "Cooper."
According to a July 31, 1970 Daily Variety news item, Deadhead Miles was originally developed by Warner Bros., but the studio then dropped the property. According to the Los Angeles Times article, Paramount gave the producers a budget of under $1 million and allowed them almost complete artistic freedom. Zimmerman, as noted in the Variety review, described Deadhead Miles as having its roots in German Expressionism.
As noted in contemporary news items and press materials, the picture was shot entirely on location, including in Knoxville and Nashville, TN, Madrid and Santa Fe, NM, and Chino, CA. News items and reviews credit Tom T. Hall with writing the score, but only Jimmie Haskell is credited onscreen. The Los Angeles Times article reported that star Alan Arkin had previously directed co-star Paul Benedict in two off-Broadway productions.
Despite Bill's assertion in the Los Angeles Times article that Deadhead Miles would make Malick "the most sought after young writer in the country," the script's episodic, absurdist nature prompted the studio to pull the finished film from release. Zimmerman stated in a March 1985 Hollywood Reporter article that the release was stalled because Paramount changed management. Several times over the following decade, various supporters of the film attempted to speed its release. A July 1976 Los Angeles Times article described the efforts of production manager Paul Hager and assistant sales manager Gerry Haile, who, according to the article, had convinced then-head of Paramount Barry Diller to re-consider the film's release. After the pair, along with editor George Hively, added some footage and "retooled" the soundtrack, a test-screening in Omaha was scheduled on August 13, 1976. The film did not receive another screening, however, until 1982, when it was shown at the San Diego Film Festival, then screened on October 31, 1982 at the Hof Film Festival in Germany.