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The Last Detail

The Last Detail – 1973
No *#@!!* Navy’s going to give some poor **!!@* kid eight years in the #@!* brig without me taking him out for the time of his *#@!!* life.

Hal Ashby

Darryl Ponicsan (novel The Last Detail)
Robert Towne (screenplay)

Gerald Ayres producer
Charles Mulvehill associate producer
Joel Chernoff co-producer (uncredited)

Jack Nicholson – Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky
Otis Young – ‘Mule’ Mulhall
Randy Quaid – Larry Meadows
Clifton James – M.A.A.
Carol Kane – Young Whore
Michael Moriarty – Marine O.D.
Luana Anders – Donna
Kathleen Miller – Annette
Nancy Allen – Nancy
Gerry Salsberg – Henry
Don McGovern – Bartender
Pat Hamilton – Madame
Michael Chapman – Taxi Driver
Jim Henshaw – Sweek
Derek McGrath – Nichiren Shoshu Member
Gilda Radner – Nichiren Shoshu Member
Jim Horn – Nichiren Shoshu Member
John Castellano – Nichiren Shoshu Member
Hal Ashby – Bearded man at the bar (darts scene) (uncredited)
Henry Calvert – Pawnbroker (uncredited)

Review by Gary F Taylor

The Last Detail (1973)
An Unsung Classic,

Directed by Hal Ashby, who made such powerful commentaries on life in America as SHAMPOO, COMING HOME, BEING THERE and the cult-favorite HAROLD AND MAUDE, THE LAST DETAIL offers the story of three U.S. Navy sailors on a toot–and at the time of its 1973 release it was chiefly noted as the most profane film to achieve a mainstream release. The passage of time has dimmed that profanity’s bite, but nothing can dim the power of its performances, it’s darkly funny story, or the director’s bitter vision of both life in the Navy and the urban decay of 1970s America.

Two Navy-lifers (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) are ordered to escort a young sailor (Randy Quaid) to a military prison, where he will do eight years followed by dishonorable discharge for attempting to steal a charity jar containing forty dollars. Once the trip gets underway, they realize the young sailor is essentially an innocent–and they set out to show him a good time before he is locked away. And their idea of a good time ranges from a bout of hard drinking in a hotel room to a brawl in a men’s restroom to an evening with New York hookers. Along the way, Nicholson and Young gradually realize that they are just as much in prison as Quaid will soon be–victims of their own ennui, serving out their sentences in a military that foists coarseness, frustration, and mindless machismo as a matter of course.

The performances are excellent throughout. This was the film that launched Nicholson to stardom–but it is also a film that allows us to see what Nicholson could do before he became immured in the trappings of his own fame and collapsed into self-caricature: he is every bit as good here as he would be in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and CHINATOWN. Otis Young, an actor whose career never quite took off, is Nicholson’s equal here, balancing Nicholson’s excesses with his no less firey but considerably more commonsense role. And Randy Quaid scores an equally memorable performance as the young sailor, while Carol Kane gives a memorable turn as one of the hookers they encounter in their travels. Watch closely and you’ll also discover a very young Gilda Radner as a member of a religious cult.

In spite of the notoriety it received upon release, like many of the best films of the 1970s THE LAST DETAIL has fallen through the cracks to become a largely unsung classic. Fashion changed, and with the advent of Ronald Regan, the stock market boom, and two decades of heavy-handed materialism Americans abandoned their cinematic realism and social statement in favor of big budget, special effects heavy, and largely escapist film. But the pendulum inevitably swings back, and now that we face serious issues both at home and abroad such films as THE LAST DETAIL are at last, perhaps, beginning to come into their own.

Strongly recommended.

The Last Detail (1973)

Review by Zetes

A really terrible movie,

The story is good enough: two sailors are ordered to take a younger sailor from Virginia to New Hampshire to a brig. There he’ll serve eight years for a ridiculously minor offence, trying to steal $40 from a charity box. On the way there, they try to show him a good times and have some adventures.

But the style of the film seems very amateurish.The sound feels like Ashby really wanted to copy Robert Altman’s revolutionary soundtracks, but it just doesn’t work. The characters mutter all the time and often I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Luckily, I rarely cared. The dialogue seems like it was improvised. Often the characters would stumble through lines, as if they weren’t sure what to say next. Some of the dialogue resembles that of the Blair Witch Project: when the actors didn’t know what else to say, they just swore.

Well, I guess they are supposed to be sailors. Jack Nicholson has never been so obnoxious, nor ever as bad. I despised his character more than any other I can think of offhand. Otis Young has almost nothing to do in the film. Randy Quaid is pretty good, but, if indeed it was improvised, he has an easy job as an extremely shy and dumb fellow.

I don’t know what the hell Hal Ashby was thinking when he did this one. He’s no master filmmaker, of course, but, in his own charming, sloppy way, he made two of my favorite films: Harold & Maude and Bound for Glory. 3/10.

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70s Films

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