Think of this as a guide through each of Christopher Walken's films, starting with his first and moving forward. Each review will provide analysis, factoids and opinion on the ninety-plus films in his career.
Walken in Short: He is Drill Instructor Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey. Classic Walken role. He is intimidating, verbose, and yeah he’s a bit nutty. A person might be tempted to compare this character with R. Lee Ermy’s fearsome D.I. from FULL METAL JACKET, but this is a totally different kind of movie. And anyways, Merwin has a sense of humor, and shows it, twisted as it is.
Movie in a Sentence: Young, naive New Yorker Eugene (Matthew Broderick) finds himself in a Mississippi boot-camp in the last year of WWII along with a group of other young men of varying personality-types and origins as they learn to live together, become “adults”, and struggle to survive the mind-games and demands of their devious and mildly sadistic drill-instructor (Walken).
Director: Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, Catch-22, Closer, and many many more)
Writer: Neil Simon wrote both the play and the screenplay. He also wrote: The Odd Couple, Brighton Beach Memoirs (of which this film is a part of the Eugene Trilogy), and a tremendously amusing comedy called Murder By Death (1976). And I’m going to go off on a micro-tangent here and say that if you haven’t seen MBD, fix that, because it’s silly and smart, and so so very good. Check out the link.
Duration: One hour, 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: ‘PG-13′ – The abundance of swears is what gives this the ’13’. There is no nudity, the sex is laughable, and the violence is of the middle-school cafeteria variety.
Actors Other Than Walken: Matthew Broderick, Corey Parker, Penelope Ann Miller, Park Overall
Available to Own: VHS and DVD, but no Biloxi Blues-ray yet.
Similar Films: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Stripes, American Graffiti, Private Benjamin, Cadence
Walken Content: 50% – Walken is the only antagonist here. There are no Germans or Japanese soldiers to confuse the tone. It’s all about Walken being Eugene’s nemesis. He gets some great lines, some memorable moments, and by the end, you definitely see more in him than the generic drill instructor. Sure, he’s a ball-breaker, and he’s kooky enough to make you laugh, but there’s also something honorable in his intentions, no matter how he goes about expressing it. He’s mean, funny, smart-ish, and eventually sympathetic. This is necessary Walken.
Walken Quote: This quote is from around the middle of the film. Walken is berating Epstein (imagine a young, subtly effeminate, and sarcasm-less Woody Allen) for interfering with his non-traditional training tactics. Walken starts off in that great, gravelly whisper of his, and works himself up into a barely-contained rage:
“You listen to me you fly speck on a mound of horsesh!t. You’re taking me on, aren’t you? I have a nutcracker that crunches the testicles of men who take me on. How the hell you think you can beat me?”
~ Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey (Walken)
Should You Watch This? This is certainly worth it just for the Walken, but Broderick is also fun to watch. He’s very Ferris Bueller-y in this (as he can be), and manages to be both a snarky smart-ass and a sincere do-gooder. Granted, some people are put off by his particular brand of precocious aren’t-I-so-clever charm, which I can certainly understand. But I like his snark. I liked it in BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, I liked it in LADYHAWKE, and of course I loved it in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY-OFF.
Keep in mind though: this isn’t high art. It isn’t a satire of war, in fact ‘war’ isn’t even present, despite the era, the guns, and the uniforms. Also, this isn’t an AMAZING film, or even a HILARIOUS comedy. But the laughs are consistent, the whole thing has a lot of heart, and the story is really tight.
I know you like Walken. So if you also generally like Broderick, and if you’re in the mood for a light coming-of-age comedy with some solid performances and witty dialogue, do it. Watch BILOXI BLUES.