Dazzling look at funny '50s in 'Hudsucker'

By K.C. Conner

Arizona Daily Wildcat

"The Hudsucker Proxy" is a cartoon with humans playing out the parts. But in this case, that isn't a criticism because the film works beautifully within the wildly exaggerated world it creates. If you are looking for pathos, see a drama, because this is all in fun.

The Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), who have brought the viewing public such fine and quirky works as "Raising Arizona" and "Barton Fink," are giving Tim Burton a run for his money in this stylish film set against a fictional backdrop of New York, 1958. The Coens' New York is clearly a set-model, intentionally as corny as they come.

The film begins with the viewer gliding through this cardboard metropolis as winter snow (that looks remarkably like feathers) falls. Our flight comes to an abrupt halt at the clock tower of the Hudsucker Industries building as our hero Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) contemplates "jellying-up the sidewalk."

The film then tells, in flashback, the story of the spectacular rise and fall of this lowly Hudsucker mail clerk.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" takes the growth and enthusiasm of '50s America and turns it on its ear. Could it be a comment on our recent '80s heyday?

Norville has come to New York straight from business school in Muncie, Indiana, and is willing to start at the bottom of the business world, but by chance rises immediately to the top.

Soon after Norville arrives in the seething, machine-like mailroom basement of Hudsucker industries, the company owner Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) takes the short route out of the building by plunging to his death as his geriatric board of directors looks on.

This is actually one of the most memorable visuals of this dazzling movie, and it makes for a lot of crass jokes like: "Have you noticed anything different about Madison Avenue today? It's Waring Hudsucker."

The plot gets rolling when the late Hudsucker's demonic, right hand man Sidney J. Mussberger, played to the hilt by Paul Newman, has the bright idea to install an idiot as the company president so that Hudsucker stock prices drop and he can gain controlling interest in the company. Norville is just that imbecile. When he actually invents something worthwhile, "for kids" he is heading for a fall.

The film is full of references to going up and going down, high, low, to emphasize the frenetic and simplistic concepts of success attributed to the period.

Throw in a great cast of characters including Bruce Campbell (Brisco County Jr.), Peter Gallagher ("sex, lies and videotape") and Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Rush") as a hard-boiled reporter, sort of a Betty Davis-Katherine Hepburn hybrid, who is hell-bent on breaking the story of why a mailroom clerk so quickly ascended the corporate ladder.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" is playing at The Century Gateway 12 ( 792-9000). Read Next Article