Friday, January 6, 2012

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Before they unleashed Fargo on the world in 1996, Joel and Ethan Coen released a playful homage to the golden era of films. At the time the screwball comedy mixed with some unusual casting choices didn’t ring true for audiences. Were those audiences missing out on something, or did the Coen brothers make a movie too quirky to work?

In the year 1958 Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) arrives from the small town of Muncie, in the metropolis of New York. He’s ready to find a corporate job (after graduating from business school), and eventually gets hired into the mailroom of Hudsucker Industries. He arrives just in time, because corporate head Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) has just killed himself in a spectacular fashion. The board is concerned because Hudsucker’s stock is going to be sold at the first of the year, and they want to retain control. So they come up with a cunning plan to drive the stock down, and scoop it up cheap. All they need is a chump they can promote to be the new president of Hudsucker Industries. And so begins Norville’s meteoric rise to power. Will he be able to avoid the traps laid by the conniving Sidney Mussburger (Paul Newman) and plucky reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh)? Norville’s got a swell idea and it involves a single circle – you know, for kids!

Good Points:
  • Has an amazing visual look to it, with excellent camera work all the way around
  • Tim Robbins nails the part of good-natured dope
  • Excellent use of Carter Burwell’s adapted musical score

Bad Points:
  • Some of the casting choices and performances will annoy viewers
  • The mix of quirkiness and classic age filming style misses the boat in places
  • Too over the top for its own good

This is a fun movie with its heart in the right place. And while I enjoy all the visual flair, I will admit that some of the performances are an acquired taste. Leigh is doing her best fast talking Katherine Hepburn, and I know some folks hated it. Others complained endlessly about the misuse of Paul Newman as the mustache-twirling villain (he looks like he’s having a great time). I was just disappointed by the criminally underused Bruce Campbell. The movie has a spirit all its own, and if you enjoy classic cinema and are familiar with the Coen brothers’ style of humor, you’ll find a lot to enjoy. The hula-hoop montage alone is worth the price of the rental.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. This never built the delayed following that their other box office disappointment The Big Lebowski did, but it is, as you say, a fun film. I sometimes think that the sheer number of channels and other fare available to viewers these makes it less likely that many will give a chance to a movie such as this. It's safer to watch some familiar rerun instead. Maybe your review will prompt a few to peek.

  2. Thats an interesting point of view. I always assumed the explosion of channels and different types of programs would expand the amount of material viewed. But you're right, a lot of folks just stick with what they are familiar with - or with the really trashy television (reality garbage I'm looking at you!) Still, more folks should check this film out, its really a lot of fun.