“You know, for kids.”
Toward the beginning of the film, we quickly discover that Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) has had enough. While his board chatters on about business on the 44th floor of the Hudsucker skyscraper, Waring Hudsucker sets down a pocket watch, climbs up onto the board table, and starts stretching his legs like he is about to run a marathon. The board members all turn their attention toward him in curiousity. Hudsucker, with an odd grin on his face, charges down the long boardroom table, throws himself through the building window and falls to his death 44 stories below. Board Member: “He could have opened a window.” Another board member: “Waring Hudsucker never did anything the easy way.”
The Coens return to screwball comedy territory with “The Hudsucker Proxy” which was written by the Coens and Sam Raimi (the original Spiderman trilogy with Tobey Maguire). Unlike “Raising Arizona” though which is pure insanity, Hudsucker is a comedy mixed with strong themes revolving around elite corporatists and workers. The proletariats vs the bourgeoisie.
Sidney Mussburger (one of the best ever, Paul Newman) hatches a plan upon Hudsucker’s splatting on the pavement. Many board members are concerned within their elitist bubble of the unwashed masses now being able to buy stock in Hudsucker Industries as a result of the president’s suicide. They cannot allow normal, everyday people to own shares of their company. Mussburger proposes hiring a moron to become CEO post-Hudsucker. Stock prices would drop so low due to bumbling incompetence that Mussburger and his friends could then buy the stock for pennies on the dollar. Therefore, they would take over control of the company and restore the fortunes.
Meanwhile, Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) has just started in the dirty and crowded mail room downstairs. Carrying around a sheet of paper with a circle drawn on it and nothing else, Barnes loves to show people his revolutionary idea that took 2-3 years to come up with. Upon a chance meeting with Mussburger, Barnes is installed as the president of Hudsucker Industries. Mussburger’s plan is launched. Unbeknownst to Mussburger, Barnes is on the verge of inventing the hula hoop.
Corporate cynicism is pitted against a naïve idealism represented by Mussburger and Barnes respectively. Barnes means well, cares about his work and the company while not knowing about the more nefarious plans behind his back. He is also unaware that his newly hired secretary is actually an investigative reporter (Amy Archer played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) looking for a scoop on what is going on within Hudsucker Industries.
Of course, the irony is laid on thick throughout the film. Much reference is made to people “climbing the corporate ladder” and making their way from the bottom mail room floor to the upward spacious and immaculate corporate suites. When people attain the top floor power position, many of them end up launching themselves off the building and falling to their deaths below. The Coens again here show their existential core in relation to the “rat race” and attaining promotions for more power and money in the business world as being utterly absurd and meaningless.
Visually, the movie is striking while even being from 1994. The camera navigates the steel and glass canyons of New York City. The production values of the Coen Bros are always solid but this is one of their most compelling visual feasts.
The Coens even touch on religion in the movie with references to angels and perhaps a demon (depending on how one interprets one of the characters). An angel makes a reference to climbing up beyond the giant earthly skyscraper into the kingdom in the sky which subtly references to me the mixture of capitalism and religious faith that has impacted many Americans views of Christianity. This is only a brief part of the movie but I found the idea interesting and wished the Coens would have explored it more in their screenplay.
All in all, “The Hudsucker Proxy” is fun. The setting is the late 1950s and it seems like the Coens were, overall, paying a sort of homage to old school Hollywood: the good capitalist rises and invents something popular while battling the crony capitalisms who are hell bent on screwing everyone over and reveling in their greed. All of this with old Americana religion being nodded to and used as a fascinating lever to further the plot and theme.
Lester Lauding Level: 3.5 (out of 5)
Ranking of Coen Bros Movie (so far):
Miller’s Crossing (review here)
The Hudsucker Proxy
Raising Arizona (review here)
Blood Simple (review here)
Barton Fink (Review here)