"The Hudsucker Proxy" Delivers Cartoon-Like Comedy with Outstanding Cinematography

The Hudsucker Proxy

This post is written as part of the series "the films of... Joel Coen and Ethan Coen"

So we’ll encounter another kind of films by Joel and Ethan Coen; something that experts would refer as a screwball comedy, although I don’t really understand what it means. Whatever term they use, you can easily tell that “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a distinguished comedy, especially by seeing how different the dialog and the actings are. But, difference does not always offer a good return: “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a big flop at the time it was released, perhaps because it feels like an overdone tease—at least for me.

Like always, “The Hudsucker Proxy” starts with a narration. Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is on the edge of a high building, and we’re gonna think that he is about to jump to his death. But, no no, a flashback brings us back to him being a fresh-graduate who wants to find a job. At the same time when Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), the owner of the Hudsucker Industries, commits suicide, Norville applies as a mailroom worker at the company. But after meeting Mr. Hudsucker’s right-hand man, Sidney Mussburger (Paul Newman), Norville’s career slopes upward. Then a journalist called Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is interested to find truth about him.

The Hudsucker Proxy
"You know... For kids!"

Cartoonish. I think it is the best adjective to describe how “The Hudscuker Proxy” is presented by the duo auteurs. It’s like a slapstick comedy that contains many eccentric characters with their own gimmicks, while at the same time offers a story which some of you would not really care of. It does not always feel funny, however; some scenes were intended to bring laugh to us but most of them fail—they only succeeded at tickling us. Laughing or not, you can’t help but agree that the presentation of “The Hudsucker Proxy” is very interesting—and that is why you would rather not taking the story too seriously: everything is mostly style, while the substance is not as deep.

If you are really hooked by it, I suppose most of your reasons would relate to the brilliant Roger Deakins. You cannot disagree of how incredible he re-invent the old-time mailroom or executive office of one of New York’s biggest companies. I mean, in one scene you are allowed to enter Mussburger’s office and you can see that his office is right behind the big clock; I bet you hold your breath when the shadow of the hour hand shaped a big arrow pointing straight to Norville and at the end of the room Mussburger is sitting on his desk with tobacco burning on his mouth. What a grandeur image.

The Hudsucker Proxy
The hour hand shaped into a big arrow

But that is still not an adequate proof of how meticulously Joel and Ethan Coen wrote this film (and, hey, Sam Raimi is also credited as a writer of this film). They managed to insert a small talk about philosophy (as they always do in their films), but in “The Hudsucker Proxy”, I think they would rather go with the artwork than the content. It is apparently seen from why they didn’t make the circle Norville proudly show to everyone as the source of mystery (that might become a twist at the end of the film) because everyone knows what the circle means by seeing the movie poster. Even the ending, which is so out of the big line, might turn you—who has started enjoying the plot—into a hater. Perhaps it’s because the Coens did not really want to bring in too much thoughts in “The Hudsucker Proxy”; this film is only a matter of style.

Duet Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh deliver a top-notch performance. Just like the film itself, they have their own cartoonish characters: Norville is a dimwit, Amy is a fast-talker. I’m sorry Mr. Robbins if this sounds a bit annoying, but sir, you do have the look of a foolish guy. But Norville’s expression shows that he has a lightheartedness within (now you can smile again, sir) that does not look cliche or exaggerating. In the other hand, every dialogue of Amy Archer might sound overly styled, but Jennifer Jason Leigh’s effort to portray Amy is undoubtedly a great one. I won’t talk much about Paul Newman because even at his first appearance in the film, we can tell that he is an antagonist—and he did nothing new for his character.

The Hudsucker Proxy
The.... Eagles!

I haven’t even mentioned how the production design and the music made a tidy look of the overall presentation of “The Hudsucker Proxy”, but now you have made your own conclusion. Don’t bother with the story, because so far I think this is one of the lightest plot that Joel and Ethan Coen have ever made into a film. “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a great, if not overdone, reconstruction of the old-time comedy that surely does not deserve the big flop it had.

The Hudsucker Proxy

3.5 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Cartoon-like presentation, outstanding cinematography by Roger Deakins, top-notch performance by Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh
 ▼  Too style-over-substance, unbalanced treatment to the story (compared to the style)

THE HUDSUCKER PROXY | COUNTRY USA YEAR 1994 RATING Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements RUNTIME 111 min GENRE Comedy CAST Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman, Charles Durning, Jim True WRITER Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Sam Raimi DIRECTOR Ethan Coen (uncredited), Joel Coen MORE INFO

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