Hal Ashby was often fascinated with rebels, whether they be Woody Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, or an old lady who pokes death in the eye by attending funerals for fun and having sex with a rich kid a fraction of her age. One of Ashby’s finest films, The Last Detail, however, is about the failure to rebel.
18-year old sailor Larry (Randy Quaid) gets eight years in the brig for stealing forty bucks that he doesn’t even get to pocket from a polio donation box. Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson in one of his most Jack Nicholsony roles) is one of the naval officers tasked with transporting Larry to the brig, and he intends to treat the trip as R&R, spending his per diems on shitty beer, diner food, porno, and a trip to a depressing brothel. Mule (Otis Young) is along too, but he just wants to do the job without getting into any trouble that might jeopardize a naval career that is arguably preferable to whatever fate he would have otherwise faced as a black man in 1970s America. For all his boasting of being a bad ass, Buddusky does his grim duty and doesn’t really get to have much fun. In the end, his fate isn’t much different from Larry’s or most of the other folks’ in this picture. The brig, active service in the military, a brothel— in the end they’re all jails of one kind or another.
However, the warm camaraderie between the three men makes The Last Detail fun despite its doomed atmosphere and degraded settings. And Ashby allows us a couple of fleeting glimpses of liberation. Although we seem to be invited to laugh at the members of a Shōshū chanting meet-up (Hi, Gilda Radner! Hi, guy who played Andy Andy on “Cheers”!) the sailors stumble into, the fact that the chanters seem so genuinely happy fascinates Larry and baffles Buddusky, who wrongfully believes he knows what living is about. The closest he comes is a jolly punch up with some marines in a train station crapper. But at least it is a happy moment for him. Sometimes a happy moment here or there is the most any of us can ask for.
The Last Detail comes to blu-ray from Twilight Time, and the picture is very grainy, pretty soft, and consistently dark. The blacks of the sailors’ P-coats and uniforms tend to blob together in an undifferentiated mass. These issues are probably more due to Ashby’s intended aesthetic than any mastering blunders. The print is very clean without any significant blemishes to speak of. Special features are limited to a trailer and isolated score track. Get the blu-ray here on Twilight Time's official site.