Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Original Title: The Hudsucker Proxy
Year: 1994
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (uncredited)
Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi
Genre: Comedy

imdb synopsis: A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam.

Well wasn't that succinct?

I have to admit, before viewing this today, I had never seen this Coen brothers film. I'm a big fan of their work; some of my favorite films of all time come from them, but for some reason this one always eluded me.

Perhaps it is the poster. I was never a fan of the poster. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it always gave me a negative impression of the film. I know that is a shallow reason to avoid something... the whole judging a book by its cover thing... but what can I say?

I will say, however, that I am so very glad I finally sat down and watched this quirky near-spoof of Capra and the American Dream in general.

Also, before I go further, a little disclaimer. This is not the type of film I would typically review here. I want to mainly target genre/cult specific pieces. I mean, what can I really say about something like this that has not been said by those with far more talent than I already in the past 15 years?

(Granted, what can I say about genre films that hasn't been said in the past 35 years? But I digress...)

Since this film was just really great to me... and that I had just not bothered to ever see it for so long... I'll just consider this review my reward/penance for my lapse in judgement. I hope you see it as a reward to read rather than punishment, however.

Basically in this film, we have the Jimmy Stewart-style, midwestern naive character who is coming to New York in the late 1950s to find fortune in the business world. Tim Robbins plays this wide-eyed Norville Barnes very, very well. The film and Norville character himself are probably closer in theme to a Gary Cooper Mr. Deeds Goes to Town or a Jimmy Stewart Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it made me think of a different Cooper role in Sergeant York where a simple man from Kentucky finds himself a World War I hero by relying on his simple skills learned from just growing up, trying his best to end his fighting and killing as quickly as possible.

Now, I realize that is not exactly what is going on in Hudsucker Proxy, but I just haven't seen Mr. Deeds or Mr. Smith!

There, I said it. Now, can we continue? (Add two more to the mountain of "shoulda watched em by now" films for me.)

The theme that was very prevalent in 1930s/1940s cinema of a simple man using his simple ways to make it one way or another in the big city is repeated here, but turned on its ear. Where the characters in the classics relied on their wits and determination to make a difference, Norville just luckily makes his way up despite himself and the suits running Hudsucker. I think this is a fun comment on capitalism by the Coens and Raimi saying that ultimately it really isn't skill that gets you anywhere in our market... that any dumbass can make it if they are in the right place at the right time.

Norville came to New York to make it with a plan he had been working on quite awhile... a circle. He hilariously shows it off as his concept... a pencil drawn circle on a wrinkled piece of paper he stores in his shoe. Mr. Hudsucker himself has committed suicide (a great scene by the way), leaving the board members scrambling to figure out what to do with his stock to prevent them from being sold to the public. They have an idea to hire an idiot as president of Hudsucker, making the value of the stock plummet as investors panic, then buying it all up on the cheap themselves before working to build the price back up.

Paul Newman, playing a marvelous role as the gruff Sydney Mussberger, is the originator of this plan, and acts a hilarious scene with Tim Robbins involving water spilling, fire, and hanging by his pants, which leads to his decision to hire Norville as the president. Newman chews on cigars and wears his straight lined suits well, his gravely voice really adding to the evil characature he is playing. Good stuff.

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays another fantastic role in this film as reporter Amy Archer. Amy infiltrates Hudsucker to get close to the new president to figure out/report on exactly what is going on. I really liked her delivery in the film... over the top 40s style acting, with an accent and all. It was fun seeing her slap the piss out of Bruce Campbell a few times as well.

The Coens fire on all cylinders here with the imagery and style of the film. The exaggerated lines of the "evil" corporate world (as seen on the boardroom table and even Newman's brown suit itself), the ridiculously high skyscrapers, and characters themselves really fit with the feel of the story. They have taken the universe created by similar films of the 30s and 40s and filtered it through their own quirky interpretation.

The set design (mainly inside the giant Hudsucker skyscraper) is phenomenal. The exaggerated feel carries over here as many things we see are just larger than life. There is a factory with giant machines where the hoops are made (only missing the Looney Tunes industrial score).

The mailroom is overcrowded, bustling, and chaotic with men yelling and letters constantly flying. The working man is crammed in here and forced to perform his menial tasks with little reward (for instance being docked 30 seconds of pay for taking a moment of silence to observe the death of Mr. Hudsucker)

Then there are the corporate areas that are exaggerated in their size and order; like the "launching ramp" of a boardroom table complete with stylized runway and oversized windows, or Mussberger's cavernous office that seems more like the lair of a villain than a high-ranking businessman.

I love the design and look of the film overall at times it even feels like an illustration of the time. Very effective.

Some little things in there with scene transitions and funny images really add to the overall enjoyment as well. I really laughed at the initial name for the hula-hoop prototype (The Extruded Plastic Dingus), and the scene with a young boy discovering the hoop for the first time was just fantastic.

The story here is not overly complex, and this is a good thing. It is a performance and "feeling" driven film, and keeping it free of major plot twists and turns helps to keep it focused despite the near 2-hour runtime. It sets an almost cartoonish mood immediately and sticks to it very well through the entire duration.

This film is a must-see for Coen fans, and I would think film fans as well. It seems a bit experimental for them, but that is not a bad thing by any stretch. (Now, Ladykillers on the otherhand..... ugh........)

High, high recommendation!

8.5 out of 10

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