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Film / The Last Detail

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Buddusky: (after the bartender refuses to serve Meadows a drink because he's underage) I'm gonna kick your ass around the block for drill, man.
Bartender: You try it, and I'll call the shore patrol.
Buddusky: (pulls his gun out and slams it on the bar) I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!

The Last Detail is a 1973 comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby and written by Robert Towne, based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan. It stars Jack Nicholson, Otis Young and Randy Quaid. The film was nominated for three Oscars: Best Actor for Nicholson, Best Supporting Actor for Quaid and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Towne. Though not winning any Oscars, Nicholson and Towne did win BAFTAs and Nicholson won for Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. The movie is notorious for its use of profanity (with over 60+ uses of the word "fuck", a then record for most uses of the word), so much so that the studio had cold feet before releasing it.

In Norfolk, Virginia, US Navy Signalman First Class Billy "Badass" Buddusky (Nicholson) and Gunner's Mate First Class Richard "Mule" Mulhall (Young) are tasked with escorting an 18-year-old sailor named Larry Meadows (Quaid) to the Portsmouth Naval Prison in Maine. Meadows' crime was attempting to steal $40 from a collection box for a charity drive run by his commanding officer's wife, for which he's been sentenced to eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. Both Buddusky and Mulhall feel that this is quite a stiff punishment for the young man, and during the trip they take a liking to Meadows. Feeling bad that he'll be missing out on most of his young adulthood while in the brig, they decide to show him a good time, indulging in such pleasures as getting drunk and finding a whore.

Nicholson and Towne would collaborate again the following year, on Roman Polański's Chinatown.

This Film Contains Examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: At one point early in the trip, Buddusky refers to Mulhall as "Mulhouse".
  • Adaptational Dumbass: Buddusky in the film. He seems to be of normal intelligence if a bit headstrong. He is vastly different in the novel, where he is a closet intellect, a former school teacher and a reader of Camus.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Meadows's mother is implied to be one, when they attempt to visit her and she's not home, only finding a whiskey bottle in her house.
  • Artistic License – Law: Portsmouth is repeatedly called a jail when it is actually a prison.
  • Badass Boast: Buddusky makes one that lives up to his nickname. When at the bar, when the bartender refuses to serve them drinks due to Meadows being underage, Buddusky threatens him and with the latter threatening to call shore patrol. His retort? "I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!"
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Buddhist woman takes an interest in Meadows, invites him upstairs, sits him on her bed, takes her shoes off... and then starts chanting.
  • Bathroom Brawl: Buddusky spots a group of Marines enter a bus station bathroom and follows them in to pick a fight.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Discussed when Buddusky asks if Meadows got mad, he recalls a story about an officer asking him if he believes in Jesus. After he says yes, the officer responds, "I'm Jesus now". Which upset him, even saying he would get in trouble with the Chaplin. Buddusky is naturally disappointed Meadows didn't beat him up.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Buddusky fancies himself as a ladies men. When the trio arrive at a place to get girls, however, he's seen putting the moves on a hippy girl, and she's unimpressed by his talk about Navy life.
  • Character Development:
    • Buddusky and Mule both start the film as thoroughly jaded and apathetic sailors who plan to hustle their charge to his destination as quickly as possible so they can live it up on their per diem on the trip back. However, as they get to know Meadows, they are soon moved to sympathy and try to make his trip as enjoyable for him as possible.
    • With the help of Buddusky, Meadows takes a boost in confidence; evidence is seen when before he wouldn't ask for the cheese on his burger melted to later on when he makes the staff send back his eggs because they weren't over easy.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Buddusky teaches semaphore to Meadows, who uses it to say goodbye to his guards.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: One of the first post-Hays Code films to really indulge in this as it contains over 60+ uses of the F-word, a then-record at the time. It's even acknowledged on the poster.
  • Creator Cameo: In one scene, director Hal Ashby can be found playing darts.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Meadows is sentenced to serve eight years in a military prison for attempting to steal $40 from his commanding officer's wife's charity. Everyone marvels at the miscarriage of justice.
  • Downer Ending: Meadows attempts to escape, prompting an irate Buddusky to pummel him. Meadows is dragged away from the pair to serve his prison sentence without a word of parting. While they do cover for Meadows' escape attempt, Buddusky and Mule end the movie griping about what an asshole the desk officer was, seemingly having already forgotten about the kid.
  • The Drunken Sailor: After the trio fail to get a beer at the bar due to Meadows being underage, they all buy some from the store and spend time in a hotel room and get liquored up.
  • Escort Mission: The mission of Buddusky and Mulhall is to escort Meadows from Norfolk to the Portsmouth Naval Prison, but since they have a week as a time limit, decide to show Meadows a good time before he goes off to the slammer.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In their first bus station, Meadows pauses by a stand of candy, prompting Buddusky to guide him toward the bus. Later, he's seen snacking on candy, claiming to have "brought it with him." He's later confirmed to be a kleptomaniac who steals whatever is handy.
    • Mule occasionally notes that they're allowing Meadows to wander away unsupervised and thinks it's too risky. In the end, Meadows wanders away and does use his head start to try to flee.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: In the hotel, Buddusky talks with Meadows about getting mad and tries to urge Meadows to punch him to let loose some anger, but the poor boy doesn't have it in him, much to the former's frustration.
  • Hope Spot: Buddusky stews over the fact that Meadows will be eaten alive in prison, conflicted about following his orders. Then Meadows makes an attempt to run away from his captors. However, Buddusky and Mule follow their orders, run Meadows down, and take him back into custody.
  • Horny Sailors: The trio look at some porn magazines and even attempt to get some girls. While unsuccessful there, they take Meadows to a whorehouse, so he can lose his virginity.
  • Interservice Rivalry: When Buddusky spots some Marines enter a bathroom, he immediately follows them in to pick a fight. For their part, the Marines are only too happy to start hurling insults the moment they see him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Buddusky is a bit of a hard-ass to Meadows, but he does care enough to help him improve himself and feels bad about his eventual fate. And in the end when Meadows tries to run away, Buddusky catches up to him and beats him into submission. But when they finally arrive at the prison, the marine notices Meadow's injuries, he asks if he tried to escape. Buddusky lies and says no, so Meadows doesn't receive a stiffer punishment.
  • Kick the Dog: The bartender who refuses service to Meadows makes a racist insinuation toward Mule, implying that he's only serving a black man because it's legally required. This keeps our sympathies with Buddusky as he freaks out on the man.
  • The Last Title
  • Manly Facial Hair: Buddusky sports a mustache and is a tough navy sailor who's not afraid to tell it like it is and to start fights.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Meadows is the nice, with his shy and adorkable demeanor; Buddusky is the mean, something of a hard-ass and willing to start fights with marines (though within Jerk with a Heart of Gold territory) and Mulhall is the In-Between, whose high-strung nature leads him to fight with Budduksy, but is more warmer acting later on.
  • Pun-Based Title: "The Last Detail" could mean "every little thing" or "final assignment."
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Meadows is a devout Christian and even asks if it's sacrilegious to chant a Buddhist chant to give him good luck.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mulhall isn't happy with Buddusky's laid-back nature doesn't really approve of him trying to show Meadows a good time, leading him to rip into Bududsky:
    Mulhall: I consider myself in jeopardy with you man, understand? In jeopardy. This ain't no farewell party n' he ain't retirin'. Understand? He's a prisoner n' we're takin' 'im to the jailhouse. N' you have a tendency to forget that. You're a menace, man. You ain't no simple shit Bad-Ass, you're a motherfuckin' menace. But from now on, MAA can go piss up a rope! You ain't no honcho! N' I wanna hear no more of this horseshit psychology jive! No more turnin' that boy's head around to prove what a fuckin' big man you are! You're a lifer like me! Navy's the best thing ever happened to me, n' I don't want'cha to fuck me up, y'understand?
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Buddusky pulls his pistol on the racist bartender and slams it on the bar counter. Then he picks it up and points it at the bartender just because he's angry.
    • Buddusky flails his gun around while chasing Meadows and ultimately flings it to the ground.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Meadows is the sensitive guy to Buddusky and Mulhall's manly men.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the original novel, Buddusky was killed in a fight at the end of the book. But in the film, he makes it out alive.
  • Speed Sex: The first time with the whore, Meadows was one and done, but the guys were generous with the money and gave him a second go, where he does much better.
  • Sticky Fingers: Meadows has something of a problem with kleptomania, even stealing before he joined the Navy. And while in the Navy, that's how he ended up in his current predicament. Early in their trip, he's even seen snatching a few snacks and hiding it under his coat, which he would snack on later.
    (Mulhall stares at him while snacking)
  • Two Shots from Behind the Bar: Referenced with the bartender, who threatens to pull a gun on Buddusky, but the sailor recalls a previous fight in the bar and knows that it's just a baseball bat beneath the bar.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: The desk officer in the penultimate scene chews out our heroes, but only because he suspects that they brutalized a prisoner without reason.
  • Wasn't That Fun?: Buddusky's reaction after the Bathroom Brawl - Mulhall eventually concedes the point and starts laughing.