Last Detail, The (1973)

Hal Ashby’s gritty, profane serio-comedy “The Last Detail” is not only one of his very best films but also a highlight of the New American Cinema of the 1970s.
 
Sharply observed by Robert Towne (who also penned “Chinatown” and “Shampoo”), from a novel of the same title byDaryl Ponicsan, the film centers on two Naval officers Billy "Badass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned shore patrol detail to escort young sailor Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire.
 
Stationed in Northfolk, Virginia, sailor Meadows has received a harsh eight-year sentence for a petty crime; he tried to steal $40 from the C.O.'s wife's charity.  A good deal of the story is set during a train trip up the northeast coast, where the oddly likeable Meadows begins to grow on the two Navy officers.
 
Buddusky, upset and intrigued by the disparity between the kind of crime and the severe level of punishment, decided to give the lad some good time as a send-off present. Konowing the harsh reality of the Marine guards at Portsmouth, they feel sorry he'll miss his youth serving his sentence. They decide to show him a good time before delivering him to the brig.
 
The trio thereupon detrains at the major cities along the route to provide adventures for Meadows. In Washington they take him to a bar to have a beer, but are denied because Meadows is too young.
Buddusky gets a few six packs and a hotel and the three get drunk. In Philadelphia they seek out Meadows's mother, only to find her missing and the house cluttered with empty whiskey bottles. In New York, they take him ice skating at Rockefeller Center and then in Boston, to a brothel to lose his virginity.
 
Other episodes include brawling with Marines in a public restroom, eating "the world's finest" Italian sausage sandwich, chanting with some Buddhists. As a result, Meadows feels his time spent with Badass and Mule represnets the most fun he has had in his entire life.
 
When they finally arrive in Portsmouth, Meadows requests a picnic, though it’s winter, and his escorts abide. They buy hot dogs and go through a frigid picnic in the snow. But then Meadows bolts in a last-ditch effort to run away. Buddusky catches him whips him fiercely, after which he and Mulhall take him to prison, execute the Navy paperwork and leave angrily.
 
The studio was apprehensive about the profane language and the number of times the F-word appeared, even though they realized that this is how sailors speak, but scripter Towne and director Ashby refused to compromise the integrity and realism of the text.
 
“Five Easy Pieces” and “The Last Detail” established Nicholson as the most significant actor of his generation; Nicholson had earlier won the Cannes Film Fest acting kudo.
 
While respecting his actors and serving the character-driven plot, Hal Ashby helms with an impressively assured and precise manner that shows what an astute filmmaker he was; too bad that his career was cut short due to drug problems.
 
Oscar Nominations: 3
 
Actor: Jack Nicholson
Supporting Actor: Randy Quaid
Screenplay (Adapted): Robert Towne
 
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context:
 
In 1973, the Best Actor winner was Jack Lemmon for “Save the Tiger,” and the Supporting Actor winner John Houseman for “The Paper Chase.”
The Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to William Peter Blatty for “The Exorcist.”
 
Cast:
 
Signalman 1st Class Billy L. "Bad Ass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson)
Gunner's Mate 1st Class "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Duncan)
Seaman Laurence M. "Larry" Meadows (Randy Quaid)
 
 Spoiler Alert
 
Scribe Towne changed the ending of the book, and in the movie, Buddusky lives instead of dying.