Hudsucker's Hula Hoop Hoopla
One thing is for sure and that is that the Coen brothers are not afraid to be different, to work their way through any genre so one moment they may gives us a quirky comedy yet the next movie which comes along can be a gritty western. So in a way it is no surprise that back in 1994 they would give us their take on old Hollywood with "The Hudsucker Proxy" a movie which seems to take the best bits of Capra, Hawks, Hughes and Cukor and combines them into one movie. And it sort of works because for fans of these past masters and their movies will instantly spot their influences from the story through to moments of humour. Plus visually "The Hudsucker Proxy" captures that old fashioned feel with amazing sets which are jaw droppingly stunning. But here's the downside as "The Hudsucker Proxy" is style over substance because whilst it does have a storyline so much of the movie is about wowing you with the look, the set pieces and the whole old fashioned style rather than the narrative even if what there is, is quirkily entertaining.
Following the suicide of Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning - Tough Guys), the board of Hudsucker Industries fear that they will lose control of the company as by law Waring's stock must be publicly traded. So Sidney Mussburger (Paul Newman - Mr. & Mrs. Bridge) comes up with an idea to find a schmuck to become head of the company and drive the value of the stock down so when Waring's shares are traded they can by them on the cheap. And Sidney has the perfect schmuck for the role of the new CEO, Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins - Bull Durham) a naive young college graduate who is working in their mailroom. But when reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh - Single White Female) becomes suspicious of why such a naive young man is now heading the company she goes under cover to dig the dirt and find the truth.
So it is very obvious that the storyline to "The Hudsucker Proxy" has been inspired by the old comedy classics and there is a certain amount of fun to be had by spotting what parts of the movie have been influenced by which classic. And so with the whole storyline about the naive Norville Barnes heading to the city to find work has elements which feel like they have come from "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" and a touch of "How to Succeed in Business without really trying". It works in a very classic way because the story is about Norville being duped by the dodgy Sidney J. Mussburger to be CEO of the Hudsucker Corporation in the hope that his naivety will make him a pushover. And you know that come the end the innocent Norville will have proven himself not a sap and beaten Mussburger.
You can also add to this the storyline of a female journalist trying to dig the dirt on Norville only to end up falling for him because once again it has a strong element of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" about it but then combined with "His Girl Friday". And again it sort of works especially if you are familiar with these older movies.
But here is the thing because whilst "The Hudsucker Proxy" does have a storyline and one which tries to emulate elements from the classic comedies it ends up playing second fiddle to the set pieces and the whole look of the movie. Now it has to be said that the set pieces are fabulous from Charles Durning as Waring Hudsucker comically running down the boardroom table through to the whole quirkiness of Norville inventing the hula hoop. And whilst some of these set pieces border on the daft and a little out of place for the most the make you smile. But there are so many of them that at times the actual storyline seems to be forgotten about in favour of these set pieces.
And if it's not these fun set pieces which are distracting you then it is the fabulous sets which command your attention. From the boardroom to the mailroom and even just the outside look of the Hudsucker building everything about it oozes nostalgia and you don't even care that some of the sets look more 1930s than 1950's because they are simply great. But again the whole look of the movie ends up being more impressive than the actual story and it almost feels like Joel Coen who directed "The Hudsucker Proxy" seems so in awe of what has been produced that he dedicates more time to showing off the look than actually focussing on the storyline.
Ironically it's kind of annoying that the storyline ends up playing second fiddle because the cast of "The Hudsucker Proxy" is an impressive one which could have made even the shallowest of storylines seem more. Whilst you have the likes of Charles Durning, John Mahoney and Bill Cobbs it is the trio of Tim Robbins, Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh who deliver the knock out performances. Although Tim Robbins doesn't quite pass for James Stewart or a Gary Cooper the naivety he brings to the character of Norville is good and he excels in the more quirkier moments such as the whole hula hoop hoopla. And Robbins works well with Jennifer Jason Leigh who you can tell has been studying her old movies, delivering her character Amy Archer with a touch of Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn a formidable trio and to be honest a formidable character which Leigh gets spot on. Plus of course you have Paul Newman as the cigar chomping villain Sidney J. Mussburger and whilst Newman may not have the fat belly which you expect such a villainous character to have he gets the sneering, double crossing side of it down perfectly.
What this all boils down to is that "The Hudsucker Proxy" is a very enjoyable movie especially for those who can pick up and enjoy on all the influences with show themselves in the Coen's writing and directing. But whilst enjoyable it is sadly a case as style over substance because for the most the storyline takes a back seat and the set pieces and the whole look take centre stage. And what a shame it is as "The Hudsucker Proxy" is the closest anyone has got in the last few decades to capturing what was so great about the movie of Hughes, Hawks, Capra and Cukor.