Hal Ashby’s ‘The Last Detail’: One of the finest films of the 70s

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To me, the 70s were the best decade for cinema in Hollywood and I’ve always regarded pretty much every single film that came out during this period as a masterpiece. These films are largely responsible for my desire to be a filmmaker. So, whenever there is a discussion about 70’s films the names of directors like Scorsese, Coppola etc. pop up but oddly the one name that doesn’t do very frequently is director Hal Ashby’s. Despite being a significant part of the “New Hollywood” movement and having made some notable classics that belonged to this movement, it’s a pity that some don’t view Ashby in the same light as his more famous peers from that era. His The Last Detail and Being There should be placed in every “best of 70’s” cinema lists.

The film, written by screenwriter extraordinaire Robert Towne (Chinatown) and framed by Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) stars Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as two petty Naval officers called Buddusky and Mulhall, who are given the thankless task of escorting a young kleptomaniac officer called Meadows (Randy Quaid) to a Naval prison for a silly theft – he tried to steal $40 from a charity collection box – which fetched him a tough eight-year sentence. This provokes the ire of Buddusky who thinks Meadows has been given the short end of the stick. Buddusky and Mulhall slowly take a liking to Meadows and are sympathetic to the poor fella’s plight. So, they decide to show him a good time. This is pretty much the plot of the film.

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So what makes this film really good? Well, to begin with, Jack Nicholson. I think Nicholson fans don’t need me to tell them how great an actor he really is. So if you are one of his fans but missed seeing this one, I urge you to watch it as soon as possible because it has one of his finest performances. He is at his craziest best. And I can’t leave out the other two as well. This is a vastly entertaining buddy film that does a terrific job of showing you a good time, just like these two show Meadows. You feel like you are literally going on a great ride with these three actors and the whole thing gives you that “fly-on-the-wall” experience. Ashby did a fantastic job of balancing the comedy and pathos and in an odd way, makes you think about your own life and where it is going. And you’ll also find yourself agreeing with the anti-establishment elements of the film, if you are into that sort of thing.

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