Monday, August 11, 2008

The Last Detail, by Darryl Ponicsan

(hb; 1970)

Review:

In Norfolk, Virginia, two Naval Petty Officers -- Billy James Buddusky (aka, "Billy Bad-Ass"), a book- and street-smart Polack with a quick wit and equally-quick fists, and Richard Mulhall (aka,"Mule"), a black, usually level-headed man whose stubbornness validates his nickname -- pull "chaser" duty (escorting a fellow Navy man to the brig), a job considered to be choice work. Both Buddusky and Mulhall, in their mid-thirties, have been in the Navy for fourteen years and are comfortable with their "lifer" status -- six more years, and they can retire, well-off and happy.

Their prisoner, Lawrence Meadows, an eighteen-year old, kind-hearted kleptomaniac, has recently, stupidly, stolen forty dollars from a charity box in a commisary store. Because that particular charity box is the favorite charity of a high-ranking officer's wife, Meadows's punishment is excessively harsh: he's been sentenced to eight years in the brig, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

An aura of fatalism and tragic inevitability hovers heavy over this sometimes-hilarious, often-heartbreaking story about these three men who, for all their differences, quickly become friends. It's not just another detail for any of them -- for Meadows, who's inexperienced in worldly matters (namely "booze and broads"), it's possibly his last chance at enjoying (relative) freedom; for Buddusky and Mulhall it's a disruption of their comfortable routine, a routine that prior to this detail, looked to be a given for the next six years.

Unpredictable, full of wild behavior and sharp/raw dialogue, this is an exhilarating blast of a read. The ending's not Hollywood-happy, but it doesn't need to be, because the heart of this book is its memorable characters (Buddusky, Mulhall, Meadows) and their life-changing interactions.

Great stuff. Check it out.

Followed by Last Flag Flying.

The Last Detail hit the silver screen on December 12, 1973. Jack Nicholson played "SM1 Billy 'Bad Ass' Buddusky". Otis Young played "GM1 'Mule' Mulhall". Randy Quaid played "Seaman Larry Meadows". Carol Kane played a "Young Whore". Michael Moriarty played a "Marine O.D.". Nancy Allen played Nancy.

Hal Ashby directed the film, from a script by Robert Towne.

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