A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam.
On to the 5th film in my Coen Brothers retrospective, and the first one on the list thus far that I hadn’t seen before. The Hudsucker Proxy is an interesting fusion of genre’s and a fairly experimental effort that doesn’t always work, but is enjoyable nonetheless. It tells the story of Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), a graduate struggling for a job who ends up running a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam led by Paul Newman’s director, Sidney Mussburger. The film has a great premise for a good comedy, and the business setting is ripe for satire, with early scenes in the mailroom reminiscent of the futuristic bureaucratic nightmare so wonderfully depicted in Terry Gilliam’s magnificent ‘Brazil’. The Hudsucker Proxy is a film that wears its influences on its sleeve and this is both a blessing and a curse for the overall experience.
The performances from the main cast members are all strong, with Tim Robbins portraying the dim-witted protagonist well, and Paul Newman shining as the acid tongued Mussburger. Newman’s performance is reminiscent of the great Cary Grant’s work in ‘His Girl Friday’, another film which has heavily influenced this. To an extent, that’s the main issue with the film – It’s a collection of influences that come together to create some wonderful scenes, but it never fully combines to produce a coherent whole. A lot of style, but slightly lacking in substance. That’s not to say the film is not enjoyable as some of these scenes are hilarious, and any of the boardroom scenes are terrific. It may be satirising a 1950’s company, but it’s not too different from big business these days! The supporting cast is filled out with excellent character actors and Coen regulars like John Mahoney, Jon Polito and Charles Durning, who all bring their own brand of energy to their roles. (It’s also interesting to see Jim True-Frost aka Prez from The Wire in an early role as a manic lift operator)
The production on the film is sublime as we’ve come to expect, with everything from the score to the cinematography adding to the heightened reality of the script, but I never felt fully invested in the film despite enjoying many aspects of it. That being said, it’s not every film you get to see Charles Durning dressed as an angel so it’s worth seeing for that alone!
Up next is Fargo, possibly my favourite film from the brothers, and particularly relevant with the excellent TV series of the same name currently airing.
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Mahoney, Jim True-Frost, Harry Bugin, Bruce Campbell, Anna Nicole Smith, Bill Cobbs, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi and Charles Durning