The support work, by the late Otis Young as Gunner's Mate 1st Class Richard "Mule" Mulhall (Buddusky's partner for this particular detail) and Randy Quaid (also Oscar-nominated) as Seaman Larry Meadows, is nearly on par with Nicholson. In fact, this is really a trio of leads—it's just that Nicholson gets the lion's share of "big moments," thereby emerging as the de facto leader. Meadows has been convicted of attempted theft from a charity donation box. He was only trying to swipe $40 (and didn't even manage to pocket the paltry sum), but because this charity was a favorite of his Commanding Officer's wife, Meadows got stuck with an eight-year sentence. That might be only six years after a reduction for good behavior, Buddusky tells him in an attempt to lift the kid's spirits.
The train journey from Norfolk, Virginia to the Portsmouth Naval Prison in Kittery, Maine takes a few days. Buddusky and Mule, sympathetic to Meadows' plight, decide to take their time and show the young seaman a good time. They don't go too crazy—director Ashby has no interest in wild hijinks. Realism dominates. Buddusky teaches Meadows how to stand up for himself (if you want the cheese to be thoroughly melted on your burger, say so), concerned that the experience of eight years in prison will be too much for him. The universally relatable aspect of the story involves Buddusky and Mule having their hands so totally tied. They're powerless to change Meadows' fate, regardless of how unfair they view the punishment. Older, wiser, and more responsible than their young charge, Buddusky and Mule don't like the detail—they hate it, in fact—but they dutifully follow orders because they don't have any real choice. Not without ruining their careers.
It's interesting to ponder how much, if at all, Buddusky and Mule are changed by their experience transporting Meadows to prison. But one thing's for sure: they've definitely left their influence on Meadows, who emerges as a more assertive individual after his few days with his new "best friends." Not that Ashby or Towne (who adapted the 1970 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan) ever allow the film to dip into feel-good cushiness. There's no traditional climax to this story and part of its perfection stems from the "back to business" mentality of it's conclusion.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a decent, though not exactly revelatory, presentation of Michael Chapman's cinematography. Anyone familiar with previous home video iterations will attest to the drab, dark look that resulted in a general lack of detail. It's nice to see somewhat increased detail and sharpness in this 1080p transfer, though black crush is still a notable concern. The audio is presented as lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono.
Visit the Twilight Time official site or distributor Screen Archives for ordering information.