The Last Detail
Dir. Hal Ashby, 1973
While Mel Brooks and Woody Allen were winning over audiences with their ribaldry, Hal Ashby directed The Last Detail, a much darker comedy that captured the dingy, washed-out feel of early 1970s America. It’s strange to think that this movie was only intended as a star vehicle for Jack Nicholson.
Of course, Nicholson steals the show. His character Badass and partner Mule (Otis Young) are Petty officers in the U.S. Navy, assigned to escort a young sailor (Randy Quaid) to prison up the coast. The kid is naive and inexperienced, and Badass only thinks it right that he should have some fun before spending next eight years in the brig. Cue drinking, fighting, yelling, hippies, prostitutes, sausages, and the sending of breakfasts back to the kitchen.
The Last Detail’s style is traditional, straightforward, and unpretentious, leaving the heavy lifting to the scenery and especially Nicholson. Most of the humour comes from the character’s personalities and relationships, a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by farce. Although much more tightly scripted thanks to Robert Towne, the film is reminiscent of today’s Mumblecore movement, and contemporary filmmakers looking to do something different can learn something watching this. B+