Tom Logan is a horse thief. Rancher David Braxton has horses, and a daughter, worth stealing. But Braxton has just hired Lee Clayton, an infamous "regulator", to hunt down the horse thieves; one at a time.
Two bawdy, tough looking navy lifers - "Bad-Ass" Buddusky, and "Mule" Mulhall - are commissioned to escort a young pilferer named Meadows to the brig in Portsmouth. Meadows is not much of a thief. Indeed, in his late teens, he is not much of a man at all. His great crime was to try to steal forty dollars from the admiral's wife's pet charity. For this, he's been sentenced to eight years behind bars. At first, Buddusky and Mulhall view the journey as a paid vacation, but their holiday spirits are quickly depressed by the prisoner, who looks prepared to break into tears at any moment. And he has the lowest self-image imaginable. Buddusky gets it into his head to give Meadows a good time and teach him a bit about getting on in the world. Lesson one: Don't take every card life deals you. Next, he teaches Meadows to drink, and, as a coup de grace, finds a nice young whore to instruct him in lovemaking. Mule, who worries aloud about his own position with military authority, seems pleased ...Written by
When the film failed at the box-office, the studio re-released it, marketing it as a hilarious comedy, with the tagline "What's 'The Last Detail'? 300 beers and a barrel of laughs!" See more »
Many of the actors playing Marines wear their hair too long. Additionaly, many sport sideburns. According to Marine Corps grooming regulations, sideburns will not extend below the top of the orifice of the ear. See more »
Though the film's storyline diverges from the more existential theme of the Darryl Ponicsan novel from which it was adapted, 'The Last Detail' was, is, and remains the only real deal film about navy enlisted men. Hollywood never did sailors so well as it does them here.
If you don't care for testosterone-impelled behavior, parochial esprit de corps, scatology, and profanity - well, never mind: the dialogue here is true-to-life sailorese, and the hi- and low-jinks antics are too. If you can't take the heat, get the hell out of the galley.
Gritty cinematography of the earthy, low-rent world of enlisted sailors (for example, watching the "decent peoples' world" pass by the filth-streaked windows of a worn, smelly railway car) communicates much of the characters' experience of life in the margins and their ethos and how they came by them. The Johnny Mandel score is often oddly, and too-cheerfully irrelevant, though one suspects its breezy take on nautical marches and ditties was meant to be satirical; but it's often discordant with the serious themes - 'the individual versus society', existential choice and haplessness - of 'The Last Detail'.
In a role that could have been tailor-made for him Jack Nicholson's acting is perhaps the best of his career - a superior foreshadowing of his later turn in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. But without Otis Young as his fellow seasoned petty officer and Randy Quaid as the naive young, brig-bound seaman, Nicholson's tour de force would have fallen as flat as a flathat (for all you landlubbers: the navy blue "Donald Duck" US NAVY-ribbon bound winter sailors' hats, which sailors hated intensely, that were abolished in the early 60's).
Politically correct left-leaning folks should discover in Gunners Mate 1st Class "Mule" Mulhall a perfect example of an African American professional sailor: serious yet fun-loving; jocular but no-nonsense; competent and quietly self-assured: in short, a sailor among sailors, a man among men. I know because I served, and when the chips were up or down no sailor cared about color, and each of us cared only that he or she could rely, or not, on our shipmates. Though it has its arcane rules, written and unwritten, the naval service is remarkably egalitarian in opportunity - and it is so without all the hue and cry of civilian "social consciousness".
Though it's a marvel of a film, 'The Last Detail' could not cram into its running time all the humor and pathos of the eponymous, tough-tender Ponicsan novel (in which petty officer Mulhall's character looms quite a bit larger than he does in the movie, and Billy Buddusky's reflexive resorting to signalling with his Signalman's semaphoring hands spells out apt clues to his worldview); and the novel (which, incidentally, I read while on active duty, before the film had been made) turns out with a dramatically different ending - with a true denouement absent from the screenplay's conclusion that left me wanting, and which is the film's only grave, if quibbling, flaw. But the screenplay incorporates characters, scenes (Carol Kane as the careworn young whore providing Quaid's Seaman Meadows his first experience of coupling), and dialogue that might also have helped the novel to better flesh out and plumb the characters and their experience. Small matter, really: the book and the film contrast and complement each other perfectly.
Anyone considering enlistment should see 'The Last Detail' because it tells enlisted sailors' life like it is. If you can take life like it is, with or without the occasional fix ('An Officer and a Gentleman' anyone?) of kitschy, unrealizable romantic fantasy, then 'The Last Detail' is your meat.
The Real Deal. Chow Call, Chow Call - All hands lay to the messdeck! Take all you want - Eat all you take. Down to 'The Last Detail'.
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