Last Detail, The (1973)

Last Detail, The (1973)

“This ain’t no farewell party and he ain’t retiring, understand? He’s a prisoner, and we’re takin’ him to the jailhouse.”

When two lifelong Navy men — Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young) — are asked to accompany a young sailor (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison in Maine, they find themselves trying to give him a few memorable experiences along the way.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Kane Films
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Hal Ashby Films
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • Michael Moriarty Films
  • Military
  • Nancy Allen Films
  • Prisoners
  • Randy Quaid Films
  • Road Trip
  • Sailors

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this tale about “career sailors” who see that Quaid (a kleptomaniac) is “a nice guy” — and “decide to give him his first sample of life before he’s put away” — represents the “sad, naïve young sailor’s rite of passage” and “results in the return of humanity to the two cynical sailors.”

He notes that “during the entire film you can sense that as the three men learn about life, an explosion is building” — and you definitely find yourself wondering what (if anything) will happen during the final tense moments. Peary points out that this “film is known for its rhythmic, realistic, salty, wryly written dialogue by Robert Towne” and “a great, swaggering, angry, rebel-without-a-cause performance by Nicholson (as ‘Badass’ Buddusky).”

Indeed, Nicholson’s Oscar-nominated performance is among his best. Meanwhile, Peary notes that “Quaid is quite touching”:

… and points out there are “small parts” by Michael Moriarty:

… Carol Kane (“memorable as a prostitute”):

… Nancy Allen:

… and Gilda Radner.

Towne’s Oscar-nominated script — based on a 1970 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan — is leisurely yet incisive, offering us seemingly realistic glimpses into what such an unconventional road trip might look and feel like. We watch young Quaid as “he drinks, visits a prostitute, is in a brawl, [and] has adventures”:

… and we are confident that his life has been changed for the better by spending time with Nicholson and Young, despite the bleak trajectory of his next few years.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jack Nicholson as Buddusky
  • Randy Quaid as Meadows
  • Michael Chapman’s cinematography
  • Robert Towne’s screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for Nicholson’s performance.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Last Detail, The (1973)

  1. Rewatch (10/17/22). Not must-see.

    Strangely, I had remembered this as a better film than it actually is. Not that it’s terrible but it does have flaws. A number of sections seem improvised by the cast – and not in a particularly interesting way; so there are some lulls. Ultimately, the film feels somewhat thin.

    Ashby’s direction is effective in the sense that he creates a believable bond between the three men (with Quaid impressing me more than Nicholson – who isn’t bad; neither is Young), and there is a striking sense of atmosphere.

    In 2017, director Richard Linklater adapted and filmed Ponicsan’s follow-up novel (‘Last Flag Flying’), turning it into ‘a spiritual sequel’. It’s got a lot more to it and, thus, is a better film.

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