Eugene Jerome (Matthew Broderick) recalls his army days, which happened as the Second World War was drawing to a close. A New York boy, he was drafted and sent down South to the Mississippi, Biloxi to be exact, to attend a boot camp with a bunch of other trainees, yet as he sat on the train on the journey there he felt more alone than he ever had in his life, for he didn’t have anything in common with his fellow recruits. As he watched the others argue, sleep and play pranks he couldn’t believe that he was supposed to share quarters with these people, never mind watch himself and them transform into a fighting force to defeat the Nazis or the Imperialist Japanese, depending on where they were sent…
Biloxi Blues was the middle part of a nostalgic trilogy of plays by Neil Simon, who even including William Shakespeare is the most successful playwright of all time as far as the ratio of plays written to screen adaptations go. They were each concentrating on a rites of passage he went through as a young man, and this was his military experience, or a loose rendition of as much as he could recollect at any rate, and on the stage provided him with another hit, so naturally the movie rights were snapped up and Simon penned the script. Broderick had worked with him before in the theatre, though not on this, but had a pretty good idea of what was required in a role that would see him move away from teenage movies.
Oddly, while he seemed to have it all sorted out as a teenage in film, even if he was playing younger than his years, once he turned to adult acting parts he found himself stuck not with the Ferris Bueller smart alecs but a more worried, harried demeanour, which likely explains why he preferred to pursue the theatre for more job satisfaction as the decades went by – The Producers musical was a notable success, for instance. Back at Biloxi Blues, we could see him as a performer in transition, and he was undoubtedly sensitive in his portrayal of the surrogate Neil Simon that Eugene was intended to be, though the fact remained this was a less than showy role for him, as the real scene stealer here was none other than Christopher Walken.
Walken was the sergeant, Toomey, in charge of whipping these young men into hardened soldiers, and worked with Simon and director Mike Nichols to mould the character into something he could make his own – there was little doubt of that, yet if too often as his career went on he could be accused of showing up and quirking up the place when filmmakers didn’t quite know how to guide him and allowed him to do his own thing, for better or worse, here he was provided with one of his highlights. And yet, the odd aspect to this was he was not particularly lauded for it, nor remembered much for that matter, in spite of creating not some cliché of a foul-mouthed drill sergeant as R. Lee Ermey embodied to great effect the previous year in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
Nope, Toomey was very much Walken’s own creation, with help from his writer and director, a forceful, by the book yet somehow difficult to predict individual who it turns out may be more unstable than any of his underlings realised. It may be damning with faint praise to call him very interesting but that’s precisely what he was, and the tension in the scenes he was in was considerably increased by his tightly wound but hard to pin down danger, as he would be to the trainees when they don’t know what they could say that was correct. One of those who wasn’t bothered in the slightest was Epstein (Corey Parker), the movie’s rebel (Eugene didn’t fit that persona), a Jewish intellectual who quietly but sarcastically protests having to take part and ends up spending most of the time cleaning the latrines because Toomey doesn’t know what else to do with him. That it was Eugene who has the final confrontation with the sergeant tended to muffle the ending, but with its musing on sexuality and discipline, this was more contemplative than many a Simon script, to its benefit. Music by Georges Delerue.
German-born director in America who was part of a successful comedy act with Elaine May. He then turned to theatre and film, directing sharply observed dramas and comedies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22 and the controversial Carnal Knowledge.
After the flop Day of the Dolphin, his output became patchier, but The Fortune, Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, Wolf and Charlie Wilson's War all have their merits. On television, he directed the award-winning miniseries Angels in America.