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The Last Detail (1973)

November 28th, 2005 · 2 Comments

Jack Nicholson stars at his defiant best, playing a “bad ass” Navy warrant officer tasked with escorting a sailor (Randy Quaid) up the East Coast during winter’s bleak to serve an eight year sentence at Portsmouth Naval Prison for trying to steal $40 from the base commander wife’s polio donation can. Nicholson does his best to try to show the kid a good time – taking Quaid to a brothel and buying him all the beer they can drink – but can’t escape who he is or how much he hates his job.

This was Nicholson at the full strength of his career, between Five Easy Pieces at the start of the decade and his Oscar winning performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in the middle.

Based on the short novel by Darryl Ponicsan and given the feature treatment by screenwriter Robert Towne and director Hal Ashby, Nicholson has one or two classic, anti-authority outbursts that play great as clips during his retrospective, but the film as a whole is listless.


Explosive at the time of its release due to the number of “fucks” in the dialogue, The Last Detail is relatively absent of conflict or character development and barely watchable today. It plays like it was supposed to be a half hour episode of American Playhouse and is notable only for Randy Quaid’s great performance as he sad-sack teenage sailor being “chased” to prison. The source material is anorexic at best and Towne and company don’t seem like they’re up to making much out of it.

Ashby’s nonchalance with the script is best illustrated by the casting of Otis Young as the second lead and Nicholson’s partner. Young gives a thoroughly bad performance. Michael Moriarty, Clifton James, Carol Kane and Nancy Allen make appearances, but only Quaid redeems the film, which can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a road movie, Nicholson character piece or military comedy.

Nominated for three Academy Awards. Nicholson is rumored to have turned down Robert Redford’s role in The Sting for this film instead. Both men ended up being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1973.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mike Casey // Sep 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Well Jesus H. Johnson! The idiot who wrote this review of The Last Detail wouldn’t know a warrant officer from an admiral. This is one of the best navy movies of all time. It’s about real sailors, enlisted pukes, not fancy pants officers. This is how it really is with common sailors. It’s just day-to-day f*#+ing boring, it’s raw, there aint no glory, you dipsh%!. He doesn’t hate his job. He justs hates seeing his buddies get F*@+ed over. If you don’t like foul language, don’t talk to sailors and don’t see this movie. I understand I’m about four or five years late making this comment. Just now saw you chicken sh#*t review. Nevertheless, I hope to spit in your flat hat, reviewer boy.

  • 2 sharky // Sep 16, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Hell yes Mike Casey. I couldn’t agree more. This movie is spectacular. I just finished watching it for the first time tonight.

    A brilliant movie. The fact that it is dated doesn’t make it any less brilliant.

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