The Last Detail * * * * 1/2
Director: Hal Ashby.
Screenplay: Robert Towne.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Carol Kane, Michael Moriarty, Nancy Allen, Gilda Radner.
The 1970’s is arguably the best decade for classic American films. It produced such quality as “The Godfather parts I & II“, “Dog Day Afternoon“, “Serpico“, “Mean Streets“, “Jaws” and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest“, to name a few. It heralded the reputation of the likes of Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and this film’s star Jack Nicholson. This is another, that could be included amongst the greats of that decade.
Two career Navy men, “Bad-Ass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) are commissioned to escort young kleptomaniac Meadows (Randy Quaid) to the brig for petty theft. En-route, the two lifers realise that young Meadows is actually quite a naive and innocent young man, who hasn’t experienced much of life. Before they deliver him to an eight year sentence in prison, they decide to show him a good time and teach him a little of life’s pleasures.
“…I knew a whore once in Wilmington. She had a glass eye… used to take it out and wink people off for a dollar.” Where else can you get a quote like that, delivered in such dead-pan style from the great Jack Nicholson? In fact, for that matter, most of Nicholson’s performances deliver at least one choice quote. His career is full of them and few can deliver a line like he can. If you appreciate such moments, then this film delivers plenty of them. It’s mainly dialogue driven and character based, providing another classic Nicholson performance. As well as, fine support in Otis Young and a young Randy Quaid. All three of them are an absolute joy to spend time with. The dialogue is razor-sharp from screenwriter Robert Towne (a year before another 70’s classic “Chinatown“) and director Hal Ashby skilfully combines the comedy and the drama to near perfection. Ashby was a director that consistently delivered superb human drama’s throughout his career (“Harold And Maude” and “Coming Home” are a couple of notable ones) but he didn’t quite get the plaudits or reputation that his peers received. However, with films of this calibre, his abilities still stand the test of time.
Humour and pathos can be a marvellous combination when done right and Ashby certainly does that… he gets it spot on.
It may be their ‘Last Detail’ but I for one, wish it was their first.