Hal Ashby's 1973 anti-comedy The Last Detail chronicles the journey taken by three US Navy Officers from their base in Virginia to a military prison in New England. Lifers Buddusky and Mulhall (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) are assigned the shore patrol detail of guarding the hapless young kleptomaniac Meadows (Randy Quaid) throughout the route northwards. Initially hacked off at the prospect of spending a week on public transport with an 18-year-old failed petty criminal, the dynamic soon shifts when Buddusky decides that he and Mulhall ought to show the kid a good time.

Seems obvious to bang on about the brilliance of Jack Nicholson in this, but his ability flip-flop through a portfolio of emotions in almost any part that’s thrown at him never ceases to amaze. He’s someone you think you’d love to be stuck in a lift with, until it happens and you wish it was Tom Hanks instead. Movie buffs delight in explaining how Robert Towne’s script broke the profanity counter thanks to the number of times the F-bomb was dropped, but swearing aside, the cinematography is equally grotty, depicting the grittier side of North Eastern America, at a time when the population was still dealing with the fallout of the war in Vietnam.

The Last Detail  - Adsum
Buddusky, Meadows, and Mulhall.

This is a perfectly constructed road movie, lubricated throughout with a skinful of profanities and hilarious (occasionally miserable) drunken antics. The bed scene in the Washington hotel room is both tragic and comical in equal measure. Once Meadows is safely deposited behind bars, Buddusky and Mulhall stroll off into the distance. With pea coat collars flipped up against the howling winds, 'dixie cups' scrunched and dirty, these pent-up salty sea dogs, once cocksure and self-assured, end up accepting their own fate as institutionalised personnel and mourning the loss of their own freedom.

Words by: Leanne Cloudsdale