Two Navy "lifers" and one military innocent briefly attempt to thumb their nose at Authority in Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973). "Badass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned to escort young sailor Meadows (Randy Quaid, who beat out John Travolta for the part) from their Virginia base to a New England military prison, where Meadows will serve an eight-year sentence for attempting to swipe the commander's wife's polio donation can. Buddusky thinks that the sentence is a waste of Meadows' formative years, and he convinces a skeptical Mulhall to show the hapless Meadows a good time by partying on their per diem for the rest of the detail's allotted week. As they head north, the comically posturing Buddusky leads Meadows through the masculinizing rituals of getting drunk, getting in a fight, and getting laid; and he teaches Meadows to stand up for himself so well that Meadows tries to escape. Despite his self-proclaimed "badass" rep, however, Buddusky is, as Mulhall tells him, "a lifer like me," and the two ultimately have a job that they were ordered to do. Taking full advantage of the new ratings system, writer Robert Towne adapted the Darryl Ponicsan novel with an ear for how Navy men really talk. Objecting to the wall-to-wall obscenities, Columbia put off releasing the movie, but, after Nicholson won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, finally opened it for Oscar consideration in December 1973 before a full release several months later. Even with nominations for Nicholson, Quaid, and Towne, and rave reviews despite the notorious cussing, The Last Detail failed to find an audience.
by Lucia Bozzola synopsis