Hyperbole is a dangerous, but completely necessary, tool of the filmmakers trade. Thankfully, few wield the tool better than the Coen brothers when it comes to their craft. The pair have consistently create fascinatingly odd movies with unparalleled quality in both storytelling and pitch-perfect casting. What they tend to strive in is a rare type of subtle exaggeration of what makes traditional film-making so effective. This is demonstrated exceptionally well in The Hudsucker Proxy a comedy that affectionately pays homage to the fast talking romantic comedies of the 40s and 50s in which fast talking newspaper men and women did whatever it took to get a story and every day Joe Schmo’s could get a shot at running big companies. The early days of narrative talkies is long gone, but in 1994 the Coen brothers teamed up with Sam Raimi and wrote a story that uses the past as a template for humor and originality. Slight exaggeration of the past is placed tenderly into a full color screwball comedy created decades after this type of film was thought to be long gone.
Tim Robbins plays the eager and bright eyed business school graduate named Norville Barnes. Barnes acquires a job in the mail room of the enormous “Hudsucker Industries” a nondescript mega corporation whose owner commits suicide within the first minutes of the film. Sidney Mussberger (Paul Newman) convinces the board to put a nobody in charge of the company in order to make the stocks plummet so they can then buy up the majority of the shares and make the company successful again. Barnes happens to be in the right place at the right time and is handed the company on a silver platter. In the meantime, the newspapers are chomping at the bit to get the scoop on this new sap. Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the star, Pulitzer winning reporter who takes it upon herself to get in close with the new boss and find out just whats going on. The board is thrown for a loop when Norville’s ideas bring in profit, which is the last thing they want to happen.
The Hudsucker Proxy is the closest thing to a modern day Frank Capra film we’ve seen in decades. The legendary director of such films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life often used fast talking characters, witty dialogue and a feel good story to draw in an audience. Taking a page out of Capra’s book, the Coen brothers deliver a modern rendition of something that Capra could have written himself. The film is beautifully crafted with sprinklings of bygone gimmicks, including but not limited to: Angels, narrators who control the story, screwball comedy, busy newsrooms and countless other elements that we’ve seen in films from the past. The entire movie is a lovingly made piece of history to honor the type of movie that everyone knows and loves, while giving us a new story, a new plot to cheer for with the same type of characters we’ve seen in black and white for generations. The score matches the emotions of the characters perfectly and the sets are incredible and larger than life. The movie uses incredibly witty dialogue and jokes to fuel the progression of the comedy, but never shies away from the physical pratfall gag when it’s necessary.
I literally had no idea what to expect when I put this movie into my DVD player. It wasn’t until I watched the end credits that I even realized that either Coen brother or Sam Raimi had anything to do with it; a privilege of ignorance that I experience less frequently than I used to. When the movie started I immediately felt like I was being greeted by an old classic, the likes of which I had never seen in such stark colors or with these particular actors. For the duration of the film I simply enjoyed the progression of a kind and warm plot told by a gentle narrator; familiar but entirely new. It was a feat that very few could have accomplished, but one that was, in this instance, done very near perfectly.