The Last Detail
nearly didn't get a release. Columbia, for whom it was made, was alarmed by the movie's barrage of profanity and resented the unorthodox working style of its director, Hal Ashby, who loathed producers and made no secret of it. Only when the film picked up a Best Actor Award for Jack Nicholson at Cannes did the studio reluctantly grant it a release--with minimal promotion--to widespread critical acclaim. Nicholson, in one of his best roles, plays "Bad-ass" Buddusky, a naval petty officer detailed, along with his black colleague "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young), to escort an offender from Virginia to the harsh naval prison at Portsmouth, NH. The miscreant is a naïve youngster, Meadows (Randy Quaid), who's been given eight years for stealing $40 from his CO's wife's favourite charity. The escorts, at first cynically detached, soon start feeling sorry for Meadows and decide to show him a good time in his last few days of freedom.
Ashby, a true son of 60s counterculture, avidly abets the anti-authoritarian tone of Robert Towne's script. Meadows is a sad victim of the system--but so too are Buddusky and Mulhall, as they gradually come to realise. A lot of the film is very funny. Nicholson gets to do one of his classic psychotic outbursts--"I am the fucking shore patrol!"--and there are some pungent scenes of male bonding pushed to the verge of desperation. But the overall tone is melancholy, pointed up by the jaunty military marches on the soundtrack. Shot amid bleak, wintry landscapes, in buses and trains and grey urban streets, The Last Detail is a film of constant, compulsive movement going nowhere--a powerful, finely acted study of institutional claustrophobia.
On the DVD: The Last Detail disc doesn't have much in the way of extras. There are abbreviated filmographies for Ashby, Nicholson and Quaid (though not for Young) and a trailer for A Few Good Men (1992). The mono sound comes up well in Dolby Digital, and the transfer preserves DoP Michael Chapman's subtle, subfusc palette and the 1.85:1 ratio of the original. --Philip Kemp
Jack Nicholson is at his very best in this highly-acclaimed dramatic comedy about three sailors on the loose. Two hard-boiled career petty officers, Buddusky (Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young), aredetailed to take a young sailor, Meadows (Randy Quaid), from a Virginia Naval Base to a New Hampshire Naval Prison to serve an eight-year sentence for a trivial offense. Buddusky and Mulhall take a liking to Meadows and are determined to show him a good time on their journey north. Their escapades begin in Washington where they narrowly escape a bar fight, then get blind drunk in their hotel room. In New York, they tangle with some Marines, and in Boston, Buddusky takes Meadows to a brothel forhis first sexual experience. Finally, after reluctantly turning in Meadows, Buddusky and Mulhall realize they are as much prisoners of their own world as Meadows now is of his.