The Last Detail (1973)


Critic Consensus: Very profane, very funny, very '70s: Director Hal Ashby lets Jack Nicholson and the cast run loose, creating a unique dramedy that's far out to sea.


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Movie Info

Two Navy men are ordered to bring a young offender to prison but decide to show him one last good time along the way.

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Otis Young
as Mulhall
Randy Quaid
as Meadows
Clifton James
as Chief Master-At-Arms
Michael Moriarty
as Duty Officer
Carol Kane
as Young Whore
Michael Chapman
as Taxi Driver
Gilda Radner
as Religious zealot
Derek McGrath
as Nichiren Soshu Member
John Castellano
as Nichiren Shoshu Member
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News & Interviews for The Last Detail

Critic Reviews for The Last Detail

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (5)

Nicholson's cigar-chomping, profanity-spouting grunt is one of the greatest incarnations of stunted machismo onscreen, and he's brilliantly complemented by Quaid's picture-perfect awkwardness and Young's bracing cynicism.

Apr 3, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

A tough-talking, sparely directed effort by Hal Ashby, with an immaculate performance by Jack Nicholson.

Oct 31, 2007 | Full Review…

Salty, bawdy, hilarious and very touching.

Oct 31, 2007 | Full Review…
Top Critic

One can't help feeling that the criticism of modern America hits out at all too easy targets in a vague and muffled manner.

Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

The Last Detail is one superbly funny, uproariously intelligent performance, plus two others that are very, very good, which are so effectively surrounded by profound bleakness that it seems to be a new kind of anti-comedy.

May 9, 2005 | Rating: 4.5/5

Meadows' 1st beer(s), 1st joint, 1st sexual experience, 1st attempt at assertiveness... represent not just a concentrated and expedited coming-of-age narrative, but also an elegy for a nation's broader loss of innocence in its military excursions.

Feb 27, 2017 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Last Detail

Two Navy men escort a hapless kleptomaniac to an unreasonable prison term. Before he was a personality, Jack Nicholson was an actor. In many of his more recent films, Jack has played Jack, the smarmy, over-confident lady-killer with a devilish smile. But before "Jack," Nicholson did films like Carnal Knowledge and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Last Detail has a lot of "Jack" moments in which Nicholson gives us his characteristic smarm and bucks authority with abandon, but the scene in which Nicholson's character, Buddussky, talks about a Meadows's milquetoast response to injustice, we see a pit of rage released, and throughout the rest of the film, Buddusky's anger at the world comes to the forefront in all his antics. Yes, he wants to show Meadows a good time before Meadows goes to prison, but mostly, Buddusky wants revenge against the world. In this way, Nicholson creates a real character, not a persona, and what could have been a lame buddy road comedy turns into a decently substantive film. Randy Quaid is quite good in an "aw, shucks" Charlie Brown kind of way, and he even handles the dramatic scenes well. Overall, it's the young Jack Nicholson who makes this film, and viewers of my generation who never got to know him as an actor should check out this classic.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


The 1970's is arguably the best decade for classic American films. It produced such quality as "The Godfather parts I & II", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Serpico", "Mean Streets", "Jaws" and "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", to name a few. It heralded the reputation of the likes of Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and this film's star Jack Nicholson. This is another, that could be included amongst the greats of that decade. Two career Navy men, "Bad-Ass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young) are commissioned to escort young kleptomaniac Meadows (Randy Quaid) to the brig for petty theft. En-route, the two lifers realise that young Meadows is actually quite a naive and innocent young man, who hasn't experienced much of life. Before they deliver him to an eight year sentence in prison, they decide to show him a good time and teach him a little of life's pleasures. "...I knew a whore once in Wilmington. She had a glass eye... used to take it out and wink people off for a dollar." Where else can you get a quote like that, delivered in such dead-pan style from the great Jack Nicholson? In fact, for that matter, most of Nicholson's performances deliver at least one choice quote. His career is full of them and few can deliver a line like he can. If you appreciate such moments, then this film delivers plenty of them. It's mainly dialogue driven and character based, providing another classic Nicholson performance. As well as, fine support in Otis Young and a young Randy Quaid. All three of them are an absolute joy to spend time with. The dialogue is razor-sharp from screenwriter Robert Towne (a year before another 70's classic "Chinatown) and director Hal Ashby skilfully combines the comedy and the drama to near perfection. Ashby was a director that consistently delivered superb human drama's throughout his career ("Harold And Maude" and "Coming Home" are a couple of notable ones) but he didn't quite get the plaudits or reputation that his peers received. However, with films of this calibre, his abilities still stand the test of time. Humour and pathos can be a marvellous combination when done right and Ashby certainly does that... he gets it spot on. It may be their 'Last Detail' but I for one, wish it was their first.

Mark Walker
Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

Hal Ashby's wonderfoul, almost documentary, direction, together with Robert Towne's screenplay and the great friendship of characters Badass (Nicholson), Mule (Young) and Meadows (Quaid), made The Last Detail, a classic of 70's. A film whose showing that comradery is making with the most impossible situation. An critic of a would full with unjust, commands and obligations, thing that the trio dribble. Original, brilliant...Fresh.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer

The 1973 film The Last Detail, tells the story of two navy MPs taking a clueless young sailor to military prison, complete with escapades, social commentary, and the revelations they have along the way. The film stars The Jack, who garnered a best actor nom (but lost to the other Jack (Lemon) for his role in Save The Tiger). The direction (by Hal Ashby, who also directed Shampoo, Harold and Maude and Being There) is simple, straight forward, and aimed at realism; as films tended to be in the 70's. Nominated for best screenplay as well, the film throws in a bit of social commentary, especially when Nicholson puts the peddle to the metal in dressing down a "cracker" bartender (remember, we're less then 10 years removed from all the civil rights protests). The film also skewers the military power structure and, in a offbeat moment, lampoons fad religions (in fact, you could say it is this fad religion, based on chanting some mystical mumbo jumbo to get what you want, is what drives the second half of the film. In a wonderfully written touch, simpleton Meadows (who is headed for an 8 year stint in the clink for attempting to rob 40 bucks out of a charity drop box that is the base commander's wife's pet project) chants to get laid. Low and behold a female "follower" of the religion overhears him and invites Meadows and his two MPs over to her place for a party. She takes Meadows upstairs and everyone believes that his wish is about to come true... but the follower instead starts earnestly chanting, wishing that he somehow escapes prison. Meadows finally gets his wish, thanks to Jack, who decides that the 18 year old needs a woman before he gets buggered in prison. The trio finds a whorehouse and Meadows is introduced to Carol Kane, who, ahem, assists him in his quest. In a way, this is a buddy film, showing the odd bonding of the trio as they travel by train, plane and... bus to get to a destination they all are in no hurry to get to. Quaid was nominated for best supporting actor (losing to John Houseman for Paper Chase) for his seamless portrayal of the non-too-bright Meadows, giving the film a certain charm to balance the crusty, yet man with a soul, Nicholson. The realistic nature of the filming is both a blessing and a curse. You really believe you are a fly on the wall, just watching the three main characters as they interact (and I should mention Otis Young, who does a fine job as the third musketeer); but the sound editing is horrible, with way too much background noise interfering with the dialog. Again, this is part and parcel of the era in which the film was produced. Aside from the 3 amigos, there is some suspect acting in bit parts, especially in the beginning sequences taking place at the navy base which prevent me from rating this higher, (although some of the bit parts later are well done, especially Nancy Allen (as the religious party girl)and Carol Kane). I should also mention, just as an aside, that there is a very small speaking role (as one of the fad religion groupies) by the late great comic Gilda Radner (and if you don't know of whom I speak, then you must have missed the golden age of Saturday Night Live). As the two MPs walk out of the picture, mission more or less accomplished, you can reflect back on where they've been and what they've learned and wonder, in a larger context, if we can't all do the same.

paul sandberg
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

The Last Detail Quotes

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