Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE LAST DETAIL and BOUND FOR GLORY on Blu-ray ""

Monday, January 25, 2016

Twilight Time - THE LAST DETAIL and BOUND FOR GLORY on Blu-ray

THE LAST DETAIL (1973; Hal Ashby)
It's been said of course that there are good movies and then there are great movies. THE LAST DETAIL is the latter and a film that I still don't think has quite reached the level of recognition it should have by now. Its pedigree is wonderful - Jack Nicholson in one of his best roles under the direction of the late great Hal Ashby (HAROLD & MAUDE, COMING HOME, BEING THERE), both working off of a script (adaptation) from Robert Towne (CHINATOWN). Nicholson plays U.S. Navy Petty Officer Billy Buddusky and his monicker translates quite nicely into his nickname - "Badass". Buddusky is a Navy "lifer" who is just out to have a good time and to avoid what he calls "shit details". Unfortunately, while awaiting their orders in Norfolk, Virginia - he and another petty officer (Richard "Mule" Mullhall) get stuck with just such a detail in that they are ordered to escort a young Seaman (played by Randy Quaid) to a Naval Prison in Maine. He to be incarcerated for eight years for trying to lift $40 from a collection box. This wouldn't seem like a major crime, but regrettably this particular collection box was the favorite charity of the young man's Commanding Officer's wife, so he got in much deeper trouble for messing with it. Both petty officers are initially quite irritated with their assignment, but soon settle in on a plan to rush the kid to jail and discuss how they will spend a little of the extra time they'll have if they get the job done quickly. They eventually take pity on the Seaman though and end up spending the extra time they have been allotted to give the kid a farewell tour of sorts and show him a good time before he goes inside. It is a remarkably funny and well acted movie and one of the great "road movies" of all-time. It's right up there with movies like MIDNIGHT RUN (which would make a great double feature with THE LAST DETAIL) and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP - both of which are favorites of mine (as is THE LAST DETAIL). What's funny is that this movie was a trouble spot for Columbia pictures execs for all the swearing (and the movie does have a lot of cursing indeed). The contextual place of that sort of thing is also interesting too me. 1973, while we might think of it as a part of a progressive time in American cinema, was still just a few short years removed from the collapse of the Hollywood Era Production Code and the rise of movie ratings and the MPAA. It should be less of a surprise then to think of nervous executives and their concern of foul language - to be fair, a WHOLE lot of foul language - in a film they were about to produce. The swearing in the movie, while there is quite a lot of it, doesn't seem nearly as racey nowadays especially with much of the stuff we see on pay television networks where "gritty" has become the standard operating procedure.
One thing I love about movies and looking back on them is context. Hal Ashby was coming off the commercial and critical failure of HAROLD AND MAUDE when he came on board this project. Now it's funny to think of HAROLD AND MAUDE as a failure based on the huge amount of love and affection it has attributed to it these days, but back then it was not the Criterion Collection-worthy movie it has become. Ashby is amazing though and I love that he comes off one true cinematic classic and goes right into making another one. I daresay that few directors have had two quite so excellent and memorable films at all in their whole filmographies, let alone on a back to back basis. On top of that, Ashby followed THE LAST DETAIL with SHAMPOO which is another amazing movie and he proceeded to make BOUND FOR GLORY (see below), COMING HOME and BEING THERE all in the same decade. The 1970s was truly a glorious time for cinema and Hal Ashby is one of the reasons why.
What's neat about social media on occasion is how it can bring out the fans of certain films and allow them to show said fandom by firing off their favorite lines from an old movie that has come up in a new post (often because of a new Blu-ray release). I must say it was a delight for me to get many responses to the picture of this new Blu-ray that I posted online - most of them being people responding with my favorite line of the film. That line of course is, "I AM the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!". 
This Twilight Time Blu-ray features a nice transfer, an isolated score track (Johnny Mandel did the music) and the original Theatrical Trailer. 
By the Blu-ray here:

BOUND FOR GLORY (1976; Hal Ashby)
Here's a quote from about this movie from Roger Ebert that I hadn't heard before, "This is the most visually accomplished film since BARRY LYNDON...There's not a false moment in it, not a moment when we feel the meaning of Guthrie's life has been compromised for movie reasons. David Carradine's performance as Guthrie finds just the right balance between his pride and innate simplicity."
Now I can totally understand Ebert praising Carradine like that, but it was the BARRY LYNDON comparison that got my attention. I somehow had either not seen this movie at all or had seen it in some relatively lackluster DVD transfer that didn't show off its visual greatness (Haskell Wexler shot the thing after all). So when I read that quote, I was immediately intrigued to watch this new Blu-ray and see if Ebert was hyperbolizing or speaking truths.The answer is that he's right and I can see why he would compare the film to BARRY LYNDON. Both movies create a visual scape based on the time and place they are set in. LYNDON does so with natural light and even candle light for night scenes. BOUND FOR GLORY similarly captures the dust bowl of the 1930s with a specific halo-ish glow that is really transporting. Haskell Wexler's shots carry off into the dirty horizon, capturing the dust and breeze blowing all across the landscape. His ibdoor photography is similarly gritty. In one particularly memorable scene, Woody Guthrie and his family sit inside their living demoing during a dust storm. All are wearing handkerchiefs or wet rags over their faces and the air is filled with dirt, giving the room this fascinating otherworldly look. The outdoor photography is lovely though and it has this observational, fly-on-the-wall quality about it that is stylish in the beauty of the compositions and yet simple abs doesn't call attention to itself. It's a perfect example of form invigorating the storytelling. Director Hal Ashby should certainly be credited for The observational nature of the filmmaking. That was absolutely his bread and butter. He and Robert Altman have that in common for sure. Ashby was a bit more poetic though in terms of marrying that kind of observation with a memorable visual style and the sensibility of a great editor (which is how Ashby got his start in the business).
The movie is kind of this great American epic basically and David Carradine's natural and unassuming performance is truly the heart of the thing. I was reminded of what a performance could really be. By that I mean the physicality of it that makes it feel like the exhaustive journey that it is. David Caradine is constantly jumping on and off of trains and generally on the move.
The film is also littered with interesting character actors. From Ronny Cox and Rabdy Quaid to throwaway one joke scenes with the likes of M. Emmet Walsh and quick flash interactions with Brion James and James Hong.
BOUND FOR GLORY is one of those immersive period films that really captures not only the detail of the 1930s, but also the palpable desperation in a way that doesn't lean too hard on sentimentality. It's certainly one of the better biopics out there and a slightly less talked about small masterpiece in the filmography of the great Hal Ashby.
Special Features include and isolated score track and the original theatrical trailer.
Buy the Blu-ray here:

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