Jack Nicholson’s performance is brilliant, transcendent in this 1973 film centring around two Navymen (played by Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) escorting another (a young Randy Quaid) to naval prison, for trying to steal forty dollars from a charity collection box. Bristling at the idea of the lost young man serving eight years in prison with so little life behind him, they decide to show him a good time on the way.
The film delicately doesn’t tip too far towards comedy or drama, it straddles the line very well, earning its relatively underplayed moments, and casually being very funny along the way (the film’s use of profanities was exceptional for the time). Nicholson melts away into the role in a fantastic performance. Quaid is nearly unrecognisable in his youth, which works to the role’s favour.
Whether the film is or isn’t an accurate approximation of 1970s navymen (I have no idea, but the film certainly feels honest and not overplayed), but the performances anchor it to reality so much it feels very authentic anyway. The film’s take on brotherhood, bonds forged under institutions, the value of happiness in the moment, all that certainly rings very true. The film touches on futility and resignation in ways curious for what ostensibly seems like a very masculine military film. There are no easy answers here, and that makes it feel more true-to-life than anything else. Three and a half hot dogs, and a good time.