Road Trip – Rediscovering ‘The Last Detail’ (US 1973 – 105 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 30, 2017
Road Trip – Rediscovering ‘The Last Detail’ (US 1973 – 105 mins)

A funny and sometimes touching movie; the naval comedy-drama ‘The Last Detail’ took a while to get noticed, but has since become an endearing favourite for many, and features one of Jack Nicholson’s greatest performances. Released in a year of crowd-pleasers such as ‘The Sting’, ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Paper Moon’, it stood alone as a gritty and bleak-looking character piece. Sadly, to this day it still remains a somewhat forgotten picture.

Navy officers, Billy “Badass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Richard “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) are tasked with bringing a young offender (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison in New Hampshire, for stealing $40 from a charity fund. Seeing the kid hasn’t tasted life yet, they decide to show the young sailor a good time, before his prison stint. Visiting bars, prostitutes and hippies, and getting into fights, their brief adventure becomes an awakening for the three of them, with each learning valuable new lessons about life.

A failure upon release, ‘The Last Detail’ is still a cynical, sad, yet very funny human drama, and features realistic turns from the entire cast. Jack Nicholson was superb as the angry Buddusky, while Otis Young had his best role as the level headed Mulhall. 23 year old Randy Quaid has an early, likable role as the naive kleptomaniac, and Carol Kane was memorable as a young prostitute. Her brothel scene with Quaid is both funny and awkward. The impressive supporting cast is a who’s who of 70’s cult players; Michael Moriarty, Nancy Allen, Clifton James, Luana Anders, and Gilda Radner.

Director Hal Ashby was adept at making movies with unconventional love story themes, such as ‘Harold and Maude’ (’71) and ‘Being There’ (’79). While this isn’t strictly a love story, the trio here do come to think a great deal of each other during their brief adventure together. Ashby’s biggest success would be the Vietnam drama ‘Coming Home’ in 1978, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. A record-breaker at the time for its use of the F-word, the realistic, profanity-laden dialogue by Robert Towne, is raw yet fitting to the picture. Towne and Nicholson would team up the following year for the far more successful ‘Chinatown’ (’74).

Shocking at the time, ‘The Last Detail’ is a buddy picture with balls! A cult movie made up of both bleak and (oddly) uplifting vignettes. It’s cold exterior shields a warm heart, and it features the signature role that Nicholson was just born to play.

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