The "New Hollywood" movement began in the mid-1960s and went on to around 1980. It was a period when the big studios were faltering. Television was taking a huge bite out of their profits, and big spectacles were no longer in vogue. Maverick young directors like Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Rafelson, Dennis Hopper, Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, and Martin Scorsese brought realism and a nihilistic edge to the cinema. Inspired by the efforts of European directors, the goal was nothing less than revolution of the old system. Their version of sticking it to the boomers.

When people discuss the classics of the era, they generally bring up The Last Picture Show, Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, M*A*S*H, The French Connection, Harold and Maude, American Graffiti, Two-Lane Blacktop, or Mean Streets. One that never got its due is The Last Detail.

If there was a King of New Hollywood, it was surely Jack Nicholson. Definitely not Warren Beatty. Jack represented the unbridled madness inside all of us. He was funny, he was unhinged, and he was frighteningly unpredictable. Jack gives one of his finest performances in The Last Detail. Better, in my opinion, than his celebrated roles in Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces. His greatest performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was still a couple of years ahead.

Nicholson plays "Badass" Budduski, a hard-drinking, hell-raising, dynamic lifer Navy petty officer. He and real-life Marine veteran Otis Young get a lousy detail: Escort a young sailor to the brig for a petty charge, Randy Quaid, really just a kid when this was made, plays a socially awkward man-boy who stole forty dollars from a polio donation box. Since it was a big shot's wife's pet charity, he gets the book thrown at him. Eight years in a Marine prison.

Their job is to take the boy from Norfolk, Virginia to Portsmouth, Maine. Given more than enough time to complete the task, the older sailors take pity and get the boy drunk, take him to a brothel, get into a brawl with Marines, and generally teach him to enjoy life.

The Last Detail is extraordinarily funny, but a black cloud hangs over the entire film. Soul-killing incarceration awaits the Quaid character. It becomes increasingly obvious that the poor kid never really had much of a chance at a decent life.

I'm not sure what the record books say, but I think The Last Detail was the most foul-mouthed movie ever made when it was produced. I get weary of the overuse of curse words, and I am supremely unimpressed when writers use them in their book titles. The language in The Last Detail isn't exploitative in the least. People in oppressive circumstances, like the armed forces, tend to speak in the harshest ways imaginable. It feels completely authentic.

Films of this period were known to have downbeat endings, and The Last Detail is no exception. There are no easy answers in the situation. Either the boy goes to prison or his two guardians land in deep trouble.

The entire film is entertaining, but Jack shines in every frame he is in. He started becoming a caricature of himself around the time of The Shining, but The Last Detail shows him at his very peak.

The world of entertainment was blossoming in the early seventies, and talent was everywhere. Future stars Gilda Radner, Michael Moriarty, Carol Kane, and Nancy Allen have small roles in The Last Detail.

One of the brightest talents of the period was Hal Ashby. He directed pivotal movies like Harold and Maude, Coming Home, Being There, and Shampoo. I think The Last Detail is his finest work. He and most of his contemporaries were heavily into drugs. Most curtailed their usage and survived. Ashby did not. He died in 1988, but his career was over long before then. Hal Ashby is largely forgotten other than by aging cinephiles like me.

Written by Mark Sieber

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