The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

"How about Oklahoma?" - Tim Robbins to Jennifer Jason Leigh, after she
slaps him for suggesting "The King and I"

THE HUDSUCKER PROXY is the most technically accomplished film that
you're likely to see this year. And it's also the coldest.

Courtesy of a believe-it-or-not partnership with producer Joel Silver--
whose films typically have high body-counts and low roman numerals--
Minnesota twins Joel and Ethan Coen have gift-wrapped and delivered
their biggest tinkertoy-set film yet. HUDSUCKER is just as calculated as
BLOOD SIMPLE, just as manic as RAISING ARIZONA, just as showy as
MILLER'S CROSSING, and just as stylish as BARTON FINK.

It looks good and moves good and sounds good, but, for the first time in
five films, it feels awful.

HUDSUCKER opens with a desperate young man stepping onto the ledge of a
skyscraper on a snowy New York New Year's Eve, 1958. His name is
Norville Burnes (Tim Robbins) and the story recounts how he came onto
that ledge of Hudsucker Industries.

Fresh off the bus from Muncie, Indiana, Norville gets his start in the
mail room on the very same day that president Waring Hudsucker (Charles
Durning) takes a flying leap from the 44th floor. Or 45th, if you include
the mezzanine. The executive board-- headed by schemer Sidney J.  Mussberger
(Paul Newman)-- wants to forestall a public takeover and installs Norville
as a puppet president to lower investor confidence.  The theory, of course,
is that Norville is an idiot without an idea in his head.  Said theory
holds right up until the new head of Hudsucker invents the hula hoop...

The first half of HUDSUCKER moves just as quick as anything in the Coen
comedy RAISING ARIZONA. Eye-popping gags and breathtaking set-pieces
whiz by at a breakneck speed that's good for a solid hour of goofy

(Not to mention the uncomfortable realization that the Winterland
Wunderkinds *throwaway* more tricks in one film than many directors use
in a lifetime.)

Complimenting the visual wizardry is page after page of tart, ripe
dialogue that moves as fast as the film. The Coens love old movies, no
duh, and everyone in HUDSUCKER hurries through their harangues. Best
Blabbers are Jennifer Jason Leigh, as a reporter-in-disguise with a
Katheryn Hepburn accent, and John Mahoney as her editor.

The characters in HUDSUCKER look sharp and talk smart-- but, with few
exceptions, they never radiate much warmth or humanity. Which is a
problem when the film slows and the characters stand revealed and the
story strives for a moral message. Even *with* the Capraesque ending,
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY nevers really warms up.

That said, the finale is a gas. But not in the way it should be.

The last fifteen minutes of HUDSUCKER are a sheer delight as they mark
the return of a supporting character who beams with more life than any
of the prominent players. Without spoiling the surprise, this person is
the real flesh and blood in a towering set of tinkertoys and he makes
you smile because he shows that there's at least a little heart buried
under all the ice.

BOTTOM LINE:  Great-looking, cold-hearted movie that should appeal to
film fans more than the mainstream moviegoer. Highly recommended for
technical appeal.

Grade: B+

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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