If Harold and Maude (1971) and The Last Detail (1973) are reliable barometers of Hal Ashby’s style and cinematic interests, he seems particularly intrigued by characters that see the best in those society has cast aside. Harold and Maude features an age-and-label-defying relationship between a young, perpetually down-in-the-dumps boy who’s obsessed with death, and a freewheeling old lady who brings him out of his bubble. In The Last Detail, we follow lifelong Navymen Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mullman (Otis Young) as they’re assigned to escort the naive and scared Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison for stealing the grand sum of $40 from a charity box. Due to a personal vendetta of their commanding officer, Meadows is to serve eight (!!!) years for this offense. What begins as a fun-loving detail quickly dampens as the gravity of Meadows’ fear, confusion and depression sets in. Buddusky and Mullman shift gears and try to boost Meadows’ morale before he’s (unfairly) incarcerated for an extended time, hoping to leave their mark. There are several wonderful sequences here: the three of them drinking beers in a hotel room, drunkenly rambling about life, and a character-building trip to the whorehouse that features a touching moment between Meadows and the hooker Buddusky has set him up with. The interaction, dialogue, and parent/child-esque relationships are very well done, if somewhat repetitive—once the relationship begins its arc, it’s pretty one-note until the strong finale. And it’s not on the emotional level of Harold and Maude. But, Nicholson is great, and Young & Quaid aren’t far behind. The Last Detail is a strongly constructed, well-directed road movie that serves as a successful vessel for Ashby’s pet causes.

65/100