Saturday, January 24, 2015

Christopher Walken when he could remember lines

You guys keep requesting my intros and outros so here's another one.  One of my favorite Neil Simon films was BILOXI BLUES, primarily because of Christopher Walken, ol' Captain Hook himself.  Here was my wraparound for last night's showing on TCM. 

INTRO:

Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a tv writer and director, a former major league baseball announcer – but my coolest gig ever is this – hosting TCM's Friday Night Spotlight this month.

We’re focusing on writer extraordinaire Neil Simon and up next we have the second story in Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy,” which was a trio of more loosely-autobiographical tales that nostalgically looked back at Simon’s youth and early adulthood. Eugene, by the way, is the lead character’s first name, modeled after Simon himself.

All three began as Broadway plays – the first being “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in 1983, then “Biloxi Blues” in 1985, followed by “Broadway Bound” in 1986. The first two were turned into feature films, and we have the movie version of “Biloxi Blues” right now – which was released in theaters in 1988.

The film was directed by Neil Simon’s long-time collaborator Mike Nichols and it stars Matthew Broderick as “Eugene,” he also played the role on stage. It’s based on Simon’s experiences suffering through army boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi during World War Two. Broderick plays an aspiring writer trying to figure out his place in the army. As if anyone can. 

His fellow recruits are a wide range of interesting characters, who are all led by a soft-spoken yet eerie drill sergeant, played by Christopher Walken. How often have you heard a drill sergeant described as “eerie”? When I was in the army, drill sergeants were more like “Full Metal Jacket” than this, but hey – it’s Christopher Walken and he is great.

In his memoirs, Neil Simon said that during rehearsals for the movie, Walken completely paraphrased a big speech – which was unusual for actors when working with Neil Simon dialogue. Simon was actually ok with doing it Walken’s way but Walken told him that was just his process and when cameras rolled he intended to do it as written. Imagine! Christopher Walken with a strange process?

Here he is, in the film version of a story that won a Tony as the best play on Broadway: from 1988, “Biloxi Blues.”

OUTRO:

It’s so interesting to me how movie habits have changed. When this film was released in 1988, i was working as the announcer for the Syracuse Chiefs, a minor league baseball team. It’s Syracuse, so it was snowing – in the spring – and the Friday night game was snowed out.

So i decided to go to the movies and “Biloxi Blues” was what I saw. It was date night, so there were plenty of young couples in the theater. And looking back, i realize how date night and movies in general are so different today. If “Biloxi Blues” was released in 2015, it would be considered an “art” movie.  Kids in Syracuse today are seeing “Sex Tape” or “Hangover 7.”

fortunately, there will always be an audience for the work of Neil Simon. And up next, we have a Simon comedy from 1980 that marked the second on-screen teaming of Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.

15 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

I had never seen LOST IN YONKERS before last night, for some reason. What a treat. There were some great laugh-out-loud lines that even my wife laughed at ("We could make a nice living off this family" was one). And what a dramatic shift - literally - from humor to pathos in the third act.

Stoney said...

Just curious if, in your days in Syracuse, you ever heard the name Doug Brode. He did film, TV, stage and other reviews on local radio, TV and print and has written a few books on film history.

http://classa.net/62when/dougbrode.htm

Bill Jones said...

I saw Biloxi Blues in the theaters, when I was 11. I had no idea what was going on in the prostitute scene, or why it was even noteworthy. Maybe 11 isn't quite the age to appreciate Neil Simon!

Ron Rettig said...

In the beginning of "It Seems Like Old Times" I had a nice chuckle when Robert Guillame told Charles Grodin he had to be careful as California is such a conservative state! Ken remember this was during the administration of Jerry"Governor Moonbeam" Brown's 1st terms in office.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Guillaume might have been referring to Orange County.

Michael said...

I remember reading an interview with Walken years ago in which he said that he didn't want to play the drill sergeant in the stereotypically hot-headed, bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Gomer Pyle"/"Beetle Bailey" way that everybody plays sergeants. He wanted to take a different approach to the character.

CarolMR said...

Ken, loved your "Goodnight, Gracie."

CRL said...

I wonder if Eugene is the guy who gave him the watch.....

Casey C said...

Hard to believe this was the sole movie collaboration of Simon and Nichols. Wonder how Mr. Saks is doin’ these days… Really like reading these; look forward to the ones for CHAPTER TWO, LOST IN YONKERS, and THE SUNSHINE BOYS. Oh, and since this is kind of a Christopher Walken post, I think everyone should see PENNIES FROM HEAVEN; or at least his scene, his finest moment. The whole movie is worth watching though

Birdie said...

Maybe this is a fri question, but do you have any idea why Jay Sandrich never directed another movie? Seems like Old Times wasn't a huge smash but it did relatively well.

Incidentally, I enjoyed watching the movie and your intro-outro. It used to be a cable staple when I was growing up but I haven't seen it in some time.

Bill O said...

Broderick talked of the readjustment he did for Walken, after the Full Metal Jacket portrayals on stage. Said Walken was like a zombie, while he was recounting it in a perfect Walken impression. Even better than Walken's own.

Johnny Walker said...

I always loved BILOXI BLUES. I loved the line:

Sergeant: What would you do if the entire Japanese Army were behind you?
Eugene: Surrender and get some sleep.

I had no idea there was a third part to the trilogy. Why wasn't BROADWAY BOUND turned into a film?

VP81955 said...

And Jay Sandrich's father, Mark Sandrich, directed several of the Astaire-Rogers musicals at RKO, though I believe Mark passed on at a relatively young age.

Jennifer said...

Johnny Walker said...
I had no idea there was a third part to the trilogy. Why wasn't BROADWAY BOUND turned into a film?


Johnny,

Broadway Bound was filmed as a made-for-TV movie in 1992, with Jonathan Silverman (returning from Brighton Beach Memoirs), Blythe Danner, Anne Bancroft, and Hume Cronyn. It was reportedly released theatrically in some parts of Europe and Australia.

I presume the made-for-TV route was chosen because the first two films in the trilogy didn't make enough money for anyone to want to take a chance on doing the third as a theatrical feature.

Jennifer said...

Oh, just to be clear, while Silverman returned for Broadway Bound, he was cast as Eugene's brother, Stanley, in that film. Corey Parker played Eugene.