A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam.
Filmed in 1994, The Hudsucker Proxy has been defined as a screwball comedy. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a bit of a step away from their more darker material. While I still feel it has a certain cult appeal, it only contributes to that category slightly opting for the more humor driven path than anything. Humor in this case is a direct parody of its age which is set in 1958.
As another period piece itself, the film analyzes the day and age when corporate power was really on the uprise. Many were seeking careers “hoping” for a chance to “climb” quicker than the next guy to the top floor.
This is where main focal character Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), comes in. Arriving in New York City as a new business graduate can be a pretty hectic ordeal when trying to compete with the mass of newcomers. Barnes didn’t know when he arrived what part fate and chance would enter into his life.
His first job which literally follows him into the street, begins with Hudsucker Industries where he is taken in as a mail room clerk. Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), who is in mid-meeting concerning the success of his company commits suicide by lunging forward from the top floor to his death. The board of directors while confused and stricken realize that this could effect their shares negatively (and shares of the company), and so they devise a scheme to add a “proxy” to take Waring’s place as the new heir to the throne. Though to keep this addition at bay they require someone whom they can control, who is in some sense……. an idiot. In essence the idea is if they can hire an incompetent president, then they can buy the shares when they are low and keep the company within the boards grasp.
Norville Barnes is given a reluctant task of delivering a “blue letter” to the board head Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman). This however is the kiss of death for many who know that it usually means bad news and the loss of a job. Barnes who manages to present himself to the interest of Mussburger (as a Klutz) is given the job at becoming the new Hudsucker president.
Meanwhile reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is hot on the trail to get the new story about Barnes as the chosen replacement. Archer who cites her Pulitzer win more times than comfort, ends up being a key parody character who speaks in a 50’s cinema tone mirroring what you might expect to see in an SNL skit. Even with the film centering itself in its period, it constantly manages to poke fun at its own influences. With much of the story being lighter fare, Hudsucker paints an ironic picture of itself giving in it more charm than substance. In other words, cute but meaningless.
The film is designed to draw us into the earlier age of corporate silliness when companies where beginning to find their sense of power within the world. It also fixates on the invention of new ideas such as the goofy hula hoop (at first realized as a circle)(there is a great scene of marketing folks trying to think of the name).
Perhaps it’s a poke at corporate greed or just the way our society fits into molds created for us. In any case, their is a deeper message about media, stocks and how we are mislead for other agendas. Actors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Robbins take the highlight roles with a take that feels cartoony at times.
It was clear (and reported) that the Coen’s were after something a bit more commercial this time around working with a large budget and aiming to gain a bit of the critics approval. However it backfired and was deemed a commercial bomb. Many cited too much style and not enough substance (which is plainly clear from a reviewer stand point perspective). I think in essence the film managed to gain a few fans with its elaborate budget look and period-based connection. Though at the end of the day it’s just a simple silly little film that won’t win any votes for 2nd viewings. To date it is the least favorite of my Coen movie viewings, however it does have certain elements that deserve it’s once over viewing. I wouldn’t call this a great fit for cult film enthusiasts, I’d call it an retro feeling film that throws in a few curve balls.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)