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Hudsucker Proxy, The
Release Date(s)1994 (February 26, 2013)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Warner Archive)
If I had to choose my favorite filmmakers working today, Joel and Ethan Coen would almost certainly top the list. They have yet to make a movie I didn’t like. More importantly, their movies actually get better upon second and third viewings. Case in point: their screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, largely dismissed as an expensive misfire back in 1994 but today seems better than ever.
Tim Robbins gives one of his most likeable performances as Norville Barnes, recent business administration graduate from Muncie, looking to make a name for himself in the big city. He gets his chance sooner than expected when Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), president of Hudsucker Industries, leaps 44 floors (45 counting the mezzanine) to his death. The board, led by Sid Mussburger (Paul Newman), looks for a patsy to put in his place, hoping to drive the stock down so they can buy it up themselves. Norville’s in the right place at the right time but it turns out that he isn’t quite as stupid as he looks. Almost, but not quite.
Hudsucker was co-written by the Coens with Sam Raimi and it shares a lot of DNA with their earlier collaboration, Crimewave. Both are pitched way over the top and are chock full of rat-a-tat dialogue that barely gives the actors a chance to draw breath. But Crimewave, despite its many virtues, is a bit of a mess, hampered by a low budget and the fact that Sam Raimi was still polishing his craft as a director. The Coens had definitely found their voice by the time they made The Hudsucker Proxy. Even with the pressures of a considerably larger budget than they were used to, that voice comes through loud and clear.
The movie was criticized for favoring style over substance, a complaint that doesn’t seem particularly fair to me. For one thing, I don’t understand why anyone would complain about a movie that looks this good. This is a beautiful looking film and the cinematography and design are a big part of what makes it so much fun to revisit. The dialogue is endlessly quotable, as is the case with most Coen Brothers movies. And beneath all the snappy patter and dazzling visuals beats a very real heart and a nice, Capra-esque sentiment. There isn’t a cynical moment in The Hudsucker Proxy. It’s a genuinely heartfelt tribute to the comedies of yesteryear.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release represents a massive improvement over the original DVD. This shouldn’t have been a difficult goal to achieve, since that disc was frankly pretty bad, but still. It looks much cleaner and clearer than it did on DVD, with excellent attention to detail and always retaining the appearance of actual film. Audio is presented in DTS-HD 2.0, which is perfectly appropriate for this movie. The disc also includes the original trailer, a nice little bonus that was not on the DVD.
Joel and Ethan Coen have made so many great movies that their fans seem disappointed when they deliver one that’s merely very good. The Hudsucker Proxy is not a flat-out masterpiece (except, arguably, in its production design). But it is extremely entertaining with top-flight performances by an incredible cast. If you haven’t seen it for awhile, it’s high time you gave it another shot. This Blu-ray belongs on the shelf of every self-respecting Coen Brothers fan.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke