The Hudsucker Proxy

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tim Robbins, Paul Newman

Ethan and Joel Coen have made their lasting imprint on the movie landscape some time ago with movies like "Raising Arizona", "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski" and "The Hudsucker Proxy". Especially the latter one proved that the brothers from Minnesota do not only have a wicked sense of humor, but also an eye for strong visuals and a solid knowledge of the craft of filmmaking in general. It is a blistering comedy with a serious undertone and when we got this DVD from Warner Home Video on our desk, I knew I had to give this disc a closer look.

Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) is a small town schmoe who just finished college with all but A-grades. From Muncie Indiana he moves to the Big Apple to find a job and turn his life around. He feels that with his willingness to work hard in the big city, he can fulfill his very own American Dream. But quickly frustration is catching up with the young man, as he sees that finding a job is not necessarily a matter of high college grades. Finally he finds a job as a mailroom clerk at "Hudsucker Industries" – just as the owner of the company hits the pavement behind him – literally. For some reason, only known to him, the president of the company jumps out of the 44th floor of the corporate skyscraper – 45th if you count the mezzanine – and now graces the sidewalk with lavish colors and stains. Much to the horror of his business partners and senior executive staff this leaves 75% of the company’s stock for public sale in less than three months.

They don’t care much about the man who just lost his life and devise plans to take over "Hudsucker Industries". All they need is an imbecile to run the company. This should scare off investors and bring the stock price down to an all-time low. Then in an elegant scoop, the board directors could buy up all the of the late Hudsucker’s shares and gain complete control of the company – or so the plan goes. Within hours, Norville finds himself in the leather seat of the President’s office, not known that he is part of this devious plan, not knowing that he is actually expected to run the company down. Energetic and completely incompetent, he tries his best to save the company, but with bad advice from big cheese Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman) he is littering the corporation with disaster. Then, a snoopy reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sees through the flimflam put up by Mussburger and his directors on mahogany row. She weasels her way into the company to find out what’s really going on and appears just in time to witness Norville’s master stroke that has the company floating high on Wall Street overnight…

The first thing you notice when you watch "The Hudsucker Proxy" is its interesting look and feel. The film has an atmosphere that is highly reminiscent to the classic film-noir. It also reminds me a lot of the flair of Tim Burton’s interpretation of Gotham City in the first two "Batman" movies. It is a very dense look with many dark shadows, and yet overall warm, earth-tone color schemes that never appear overly harsh. It is an intriguing retro-look that actually asked for a lot of special effects work and a large number of miniatures to bring this film to life.

Two people carry "The Hudsucker Proxy" – Tim Robbins in his best form, and the stoic Paul Newman. Unfortunately their efforts take a serious hit through Jennifer Jason Leigh’s overly obtrusive acting. In her attempt to create a character that is as affected as many of the 40s and 50s actresses, she goes completely overboard and turns her part into a monotonous, almost unbearable tirade without emotion or substance. Her portrayal is oftentimes so annoying that you literally begin to lock out the stinging sound of her voice. Once her litany is over, you know you can safely try to get back into the movie.

Fortunately the charming and wide-eyed happy go lucky portrayal of Tim Robbins makes up for much of this gaffe, as his character is genuinely sympathetic. Thrown I nthe pond to swim with the big fish, Robbins’ character hardly has the gills to breathe.

Against all odds his determination gets the upper hand and he manages to really make a difference. The same is true for Paul Newman’s characterization of the enigmatic Sidney Mussburger. This guy is so cold he even picks up the still burning cigar from the ashtray of Waring Hudsucker who just jumped to his death, and sucks on it deliciously. Stoic to the last minute, Paul Newman and his cold blue eyes literally freeze subordinates in place. The scene in which he first meets the imbecile Norville in his own office is a hilarious example how Newman’s stature as an actor helps rooting the entire scene.

Warner Home Video presents "The Hudsucker Proxy" in both a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> version as well as a <$PS,pan & scan> version on this DVD. The <$PS,letterboxed> version restores the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, while the <$PS,pan & scan> version crops the image slightly on both sides. The transfer used for this DVD is very clean hardly exhibits speckles or dust. However the compression on this disc is not exactly as good as I had hoped it would be. The image exhibits slight compression artifacts throughout and some serious <$pixelation,pixelation> in a handful of scenes and as a result also loses quite some of the detail inherent in the original transfer. Color reproduction of the film is generally good, although blacks have a tendency to turn into dark grays. Fleshtones and colors are faithfully rendered however and the overall color balance is absolutely pleasing.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" contains <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtracks in English and French, as well as selectable English and French subtitles. Spanish language support is entirely missing from this disc. The soundtracks are well produced and balanced. Dialogues are understandable at all times. To enhance the visual flair of the movie, "The Hudsucker Proxy" features a great score by Carter Burwell. Sometimes whimsically playful, othertimes powerfully foreboding and always inventive, this soundtrack helps immensely to bring the caricature characters of the film to live.

I greatly enjoyed "The Hudsucker Proxy". The overdrawn characters and the ice-cold schemes to depress the stock seem outrageous at first, but the more you think about it, the more sense they make. While very delightful and light-hearted for the most part, "The Hudsucker Proxy" is very serious about its issues. It is the way the Coen brothers turn the material in a hysterical satire and every character into a farce that makes this film so enjoyable. Despite the technical flaws – which are surprising given Warner’s status in the DVD industry – I find this disc to be a great release that no lover of intelligent comedies should miss.