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The Hudsucker Proxy(1994)
When the head of a large corporation dies, the Chairman installs a mailroom clerk as CEO so that he and the Board of Directors can become rich by shorting the stock. But the unassuming pawn takes his new position seriously and steadfastly pursues his own ideas, which only increase the company's worth.
For more about The Hudsucker Proxy and the The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray release, see the The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on February 28, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Charles Durning, John Mahoney, Jim True-Frost
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
» See full cast & crew
The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray Review
Screwball Coens (You Know, For Kids)
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, February 28, 2013
The Hudsucker Proxy is that rare creature, a cult film made on a generous budget. The Coen Bros., Joel and Ethan, wrote the script with their friend, Sam Raimi, in 1985, when the Coens' only finished film was Blood Simple and Raimi had yet to make Evil Dead II , let alone any of the Spider-Man films that would elevate him to the A-list. The trio knew the script would require major financing, which didn't arrive until six years later in the form of super-producer Joel Silver, an enthusiastic Coen fan. Silver assembled a financing package from his own company, Warner Brothers, the now-defunct Polygram and Working Title Entertainment (now absorbed into Universal's Focus Features). Hudsucker was made for a budget estimated at between $25 and $40 million, or about 3-4 times that of the Coens' previous film, Barton Fink. It bombed. In 1994, the year of Hudsucker's release, there was no general audience for the Coens' peculiar sensibility. People hadn't yet met Marge Gunderson in Fargo or heard the Soggy Bottom Boys in O Brother, Where Art Thou? or been charmed by The Dude in The Big Lebowski . Fourteen years later, when the Coens were standing at the podium accepting multiple Oscars for 2007's No Country for Old Men, Ethan marveled aloud that they'd done the same thing on this film that they'd been doing for years. Long-time fans knew what he meant. It just took a while for the audience to come around. Hudsucker's original fanbase has remained loyal throughout the years, but Warner apparently doesn't think it's big enough to justify a full-fledged Blu-ray release. Instead, the disc is being issued through the Warner Archive Collection (or "WAC"), but the good news is that WAC's commitment to audio/video quality hasn't wavered. The Coens didn't waste Silver's funding. It's all there on the screen, and the result is every bit as polished and skillful as the rest of their work.
Hudsucker is a deliberate invocation of the screwball comedies of the Thirties and Forties. But the film is as much a parody as an imitation, and this has often confused new viewers, especially when the Coens were less popular than they are now. The Coens knew they couldn't do what Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges or Frank Capra did, because that style belongs to a bygone era. As with the gangsters of Miller's Crossing, there's a self-conscious, absurdist topcoating on everything in Hudsucker. It's all slightly "off" or exaggerated. If the dialogue in screwball comedy was spoken fast, in Hudsucker it's faster. If the hero was a well-meaning innocent, in Hudsucker he's a bumpkin. If the heroine was a pushy career woman, in Hudsucker she's shrill and brittle. If the villain was a greedy businessman, in Hudsucker he's a snarling beast. Hudsucker's well-intentioned but often clueless protagonist is Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins, whose skinny height can't help but invoke Capra's favorite leading man, Jimmy Stewart). In late 1958, Norville arrives in New York City fresh from business college in Muncie, Indiana, only to find that all the good jobs require experience. (Pay attention to the rapidly twirling plaques on the "help wanted" board when Norville looks for work; some of the positions are quite unusual.) The only job he's able to land is a clerk's position in the mailroom of Hudsucker Industries, which Norville convinces himself will provide an entree to the executive suite. Sure enough, as luck (or fate) has it, the day Norville starts is also the day when the company's founder, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), concludes a meeting of the board of directors by taking a swan dive from a high floor of the Hudsucker Building, thereby, as the official company announcement puts it, merging "with the infinite". Hudsucker's plunge is so elaborately staged and choreographed that it might almost be a fantasy sequence, but the man is really dead, and his passing triggers a crisis in the company. To avoid having Hudsucker's controlling stock interest sold to the public in the open market, board member Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman, clearly having fun playing mean) schemes to depress the stock so that the board members can afford to buy it all. The plan: Install an incompetent as company president in Hudsucker's place so that the market loses confidence and the stock price topples. At just that moment, Norville enters Mussberger's office with an urgent delivery. Problem solved! But Norville isn't quite the chump that Mussberger expects him to be. He has a Big Idea that will turn the company around. (Hint for the uninitiated: It's pictured on the Blu-ray cover.) After an uncertain start, Hudsucker Industries sees record sales, and the stock soars. With his back against the wall, Mussberger devises an even more diabolical plot to ruin Norville's reputation. So successful is this latest maneuver that New Year's Eve finds a despairing Norville in contemplation of following Waring Hudsucker's path out an upper floor window. He's saved by . . . well, that would be telling. While these corporate machinations proceed, the press is nosing about in the person of intrepid reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who talks even faster than Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, because that's what it takes to keep pace with her editor, known only as "Chief" (John Mahoney, parodying every tough fictional editor from Perry White to J. Jonah Jameson). Trying to learn the truth about Norville, Amy wangles a job as his secretary and ends up falling for him, because (wouldn't ya know it?) he's the first man in years who doesn't treat her as one of the guys. The story's occasional narrator is reliable supporting actor Bill Cobbs, whose character, Moses, has the unique job of tending the machinery in the clock tower crowning the Hudsucker Building. Watch for entertaining cameos by Coen regulars Jon Polito as a Hudsucker business associate, Steve Buscemi as a barman and the voice of John Goodman as a newsreel announcer; by Peter Gallagher as a crooner; and by the late Anna Nicole Smith as a model who attaches herself briefly to Norville when he becomes successful.
The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray, Video Quality
WAC's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray accurately reproduces Gassner's design and Deakins' delicate lighting, which favors a palette of pastels, light grays and browns, and delicate earth tones that bestow a storybook quality on Hudsucker's vision of New York. (Primary colors are reserved for Norville's invention.) Busy though this city may be, it always looks pristine, even in the machinery of the clock tower at the top of the Hudsucker Building. Detail is very good, which is important for appreciating the exaggerated period costumes and hair styles, and black levels are solid. The grain texture is fine and film-like. Without extras or multiple language tracks, the 111-minute film has compressed onto a BD-25 without obvious artifacts (although I would have preferred a higher bitrate). My only real criticism is that contrast is slightly understated, but better that than the opposite.
The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The announcement from WAC that Hudsucker would be released with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track prompted comment. Surely the film had been released in 5.1? While I have not been able to find a definitive answer, it should be noted that the film was released less than a year after the debut of DTS in theaters and two years after the formal introduction of Dolby Digital. Discrete 5.1 soundtracks were far from standard when Hudsucker hit the screen in March 1994, and the logo at the film's end is the "spectral recording" version used for Dolby Stereo soundtracks. When Warner released the film on DVD in 1999, it provided a stereo track—and as one of the major proponents of the DVD format, Warner was generally reliable about including the best available audio format. The Blu-ray's lossless 2.0 soundtrack nicely reproduces the film's lighthearted mix, which is so playful that it helps transform even Waring Hudsucker's extended suicide into a comedy sketch. The eclectic score mixes original compositions by the Coens' regular composer, Carter Burwell, with selections from Duke Ellington, Georges Bizet and Aram Khachaturyan, among others. Many of the sound effects are as exaggerated as the vocal performances. When played through a surround decoder, the stereo track images effectively and provides an immersive sense of presence through the rear speakers, while the dialogue remains clearly in front. If one listens to the track instead of dwelling on the stats, it's an enjoyable experience.
The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The disc's only extra is a trailer (1.33:1, 2:05) that, while technically in 1080p, appears to be taken from a standard definition source. However, this represents an improvement over Warner's 1999 DVD release, which had no extras at all.
The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A common criticism of The Hudsucker Proxy when it was released was that it was all surface and no substance—a criticism that makes about as much sense as complaining that Greek tragedy is short on laughs. The Coens have taken on more serious subjects in other films (e.g., Fargo, No Country for Old Men and True Grit), but comedy has always been a strong element in their work, and sometimes it's the film's raison d'ętre (as in Raising Arizona, which I think is one of the funniest films ever made). In both style and substance, Hudsucker clearly announces that it's a comedy, and even if it's not to your taste (the Coens have never been everyone's idea of a good time), looking to the film for a moral more serious than "don't be greedy" is a pointless exercise. Enjoy it for what it is, now that WAC has made it available on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.
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