With a score of cult and award-winning films to their name (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men to name a few), Joel and Ethan Coen, better known as the Coen brothers, have proved themselves to be intelligent and often offbeat directors and storytellers. The Hudsucker Proxy, released in 1994, is no different.
Starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman, the iconic actor who died in September 2008 after losing his battle with lung cancer, the film combines elements of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, the black-and-white classic that is wheeled out every holiday season, with some quirky elements of its own. The result is a feel-good tale that makes perfect holiday viewing.
The Struggle between Good and Evil
It is 1958 and Waring Hudsucker, president of the successful Hudsucker Industries, has just committed suicide. Power-hungry Sidney Mussberger (Newman) sees this as his opportunity to gain control of the company. He comes up with a plan to make the value of the shares sink until they are so low, he and the other members of the board can afford to buy a majority stake. How? Appoint an idiot as president in whom no investor will have any confidence.
As chance would have it, this idiot turns out to be Norville Barnes (Robbins), an idealistic and trusting young business graduate who has just started working in the mail room. Hot on his heels is the hard-nosed reporter Amy Archer (Jason Leigh). She smells a rat and takes a job as Norville’s secretary in order to get inside the company and unearth the truth.
The story is ultimately about the eternal struggle between good and evil, although the lines are not always that clearly defined, as no one in the film is wholly good. Sidney Mussberger is an obvious ‘baddie’, but Amy Archer, who is ostensibly aiming to expose the corruption within the organization, also lies about who she is in order to get the job at Hudsucker Industries.
Even Norville, who has so much integrity and ambition at the start of the film, begins to grow accustomed to the way of life his position as president affords him and becomes arrogant and apathetic. In typical Coen brother fashion, the film contains a surreal sequence in which Waring Hudsucker returns as an angel to offer Norville a second chance, much like Dickens’ ghosts do to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Great Holiday Entertainment Value
Both Newman and the eternally fresh-faced Robbins turn in solid performances. Jason Leigh aims for fast talking and ballsy as career girl Amy, one of the only female reporters for the male-dominated The Argus newspaper, but her clipped speech and tough posturing ultimately come across as whiny and irritating.
The Hudsucker Proxy is certainly not one of the Coen brothers’ best movies, but it nevertheless has a great deal of entertainment value that is particularly suited to the holiday season.