The Last Detail

by DT

The Last Detail is a 1973 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby and starring Jack Nicholson, with a screenplay adapted by Robert Towne from a novel of the same name by Daryl Ponicsan. The film became known for its frequent use of profanity. It was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. Navy sailors, 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 near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Meadows has drawn a stiff eight-year sentence for a petty crime: trying to steal $40 from a mite box of the C.O.’s wife’s favorite charity. During their train trip up the northeast corridor, the oddly likeable Meadows begins to grow on the two Navy “lifers”; they know the grim reality of the Marine guards at Portsmouth, and feel sorry he’ll miss his youth serving his sentence. They decide to show him a good time before delivering him to the brig.

With several days to spare before they are due in Portsmouth, the trio detrains at the major cities along the route to provide bon-voyage 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 room, and the three get drunk. In Philadelphia they seek out Meadows’s mother, only to find her away for the day 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. In between, they brawl with Marines in a public restroom, dine on “the world’s finest” Italian sausage sandwich, chant with Nichiren Shōshū Buddhists and open intimate windows for each other in swaying train coaches. Meadows pronounces his several days with Badass and Mule to be the best of his whole life.

When they finally arrive in frozen Portsmouth, Meadows has a final request – a picnic – so they buy some hot dogs and attempt a frigid picnic in the crunching snow. Docile Meadows walks along the park, seemingly ready to head to prison. He suddenly bolts, though, in a last-ditch effort to run away. Buddusky runs after him, catches him, and pistol-whips him fiercely. Mulhall and Buddusky then brusquely take Meadows to the prison, execute the Navy paperwork, and after being released from their detail, they stride away angrily, berating the marines they have encountered at the prison – and about how hopefully their orders will come through when they get back to Norfolk.

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