Navy lifers Signalman First Class Billy “Badass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Gunner’s Mate First Class Richard “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) have been given orders they’re not happy with: escorting Seaman Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison so he can serve eight years in the brig for stealing $40 from a charity fund.
They have a week to get him from Virginia to Maine and if they fail, they will be kicked out of the Navy, losing all of their benefits, pay and pension.
A funny thing happens. They end up liking the kid and decide to show him a good time before giving him over to serve his sentence. What follows are several episodes in their journey, like Meadows trying to see his mother one last time, ice skating, a bar brawl, an encounter with Buddhists at a party, paying (twice) for Meadows first sexual experience and finally taking him in.
With a cast that includes Nancy Allen, Gilda Radner, Luana Anders, Clifton James (Cool Hand Luke and Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun), Carol Kane and Michael Moriarty, I’m left wondering, did I cast this movie?
When Robert Towne wrote the script, he ended up facing a Hollywood that didn’t understand all of the profanity. Then again, there were 342 f words in the first five minutes. Once Jack Nicholson became a star, it became easier to get made, and the actor brought director Hal Ashby on board. The production stalled for a year and a half while the star made The King of Marvin Gardens, with Columbia Pictures’ Peter Guber wanting the team to move on and make it with Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown and David Cassidy. Luckily, everyone — including producer Gerry Ayres — stuck together, even when Ashby had a marijuana bust in Canada. Sadly, the script had been written for Nicholson and Rupert Crosse, who died from cancer before the movie could be made.
Still, Columbia was unhappy with how long the movie took to edit and how much profanity remained in the final cut. They wanted 26 lines to be cut and at the end, there were 65 uses of the f word, breaking records for swearing. Ashby talked Columbia into previewing the movie for a real audience to see how they would react and they loved it. And then when Nicholson won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, they finally did a limited release of the film.
The actor said, “I like the idea of winning at Cannes with The Last Detail, but not getting our own Academy Award hurt real bad. I did it in that movie, that was my best role.”
Through the Decades: 1970s Collection is new from Mill Creek. It also has A Walk In the Spring Rain, Dollars, Fun With Dick and Jane, The Owl and Pussycat, For Pete’s Sake, The Anderson Tapes, The Horsemen, The Stone Killer, Brother John and Gumshoe. You can learn more on their site and order it from Deep Discount.