The Last Detail (1973)

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+

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Sleeper (1973)

Sleeper

Dir. Woody Allen, 1973

Before gaining dramatic prestige with films like Manhattan, Woody Allen was possibly the funniest man in America, whose special blend of the physical, situational, and ribald gave the world classics like Take the Money and Run, Bananas, and Sleeper.

Presented as the final film at the Old Pasadena Film Festival, Sleeper tells the story of Miles Monroe (Allen), a nebbishy health food store owner who is frozen in 1973 and defrosted 200 years later by a group of rebels against the current autocratic government. In a prescient bit of Orwellian paranoia, Monroe is the only person who can stop the government’s next plan because he is the only person in the world who is “off the grid.” Before he can acheive this goal, he finds himself tied down to a haughty socialite (Diane Keaton) before the real plot resumes.

Sleeper’s deconstruction of raygun gothic and ‘70s dystopian sci-fi is nothing but pure joy. There isn’t much to say except that I’d easily put it up as my second favourite Woody Allen film after his very first, What’s Up Tiger Lily? A

Sisters (1973)

SPOILER ALERT: As these reviews are of an academic nature, they may contain spoilers. Those that do feature this warning. Future reviews will try to limit spoilers for a public audience, but until then, read at your own risk.

Sisters

Dir. Brian DePalma, 1973

If nothing else, Sisters is a cracking homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950s prime. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first act of the film: the rich colours, the score by Bernard Hermann, the decoy hero, and a crime witnessed from the real protagonists rear window.

In Sisters, Margot Kidder plays a former Siamese twin who previously lost her sister after she became impregnated by their doctor. After losing her emotionally disturbed counterpart, Kidder starts to become her from time to time, resulting in the murder of one of her suitors. When reporter Jennifer Salt sees the murder, the cops take too long and the evidence has been cleaned up. Undaunted, Salt begins investigating the crime herself, but is hypnotized into believing she saw nothing. At the end, the bad guys are caught, and Salt is believed by everyone…except herself.

What distinguishes Sisters from Hitchcock is two things. Made after the abandonment of the Hays Code, the murder scene is much more graphic than it would have been a decade earlier, and the viewer’s sense of dread is far more heightened. More unusual are two setpieces in the film’s third act: the hypnosis scene, where various characters appear randomly in the protagonist’s own psyche, and again at the end; when the final piece of evidence lies unremarked upon, except by a cow. If nothing else, the film’s ending is reminiscent of David Lynch, whose first feature film Eraserhead was released just four years after this. B+