Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On THE HUDSUCKER PROXY

I loved Tim Robbins in this screwball comedy from the Coen Brothers.  The Hudsucker Proxy was close to being excellent.  Robbins was perfectly cast as Norville Barnes, the poor schnook from the mailroom who's kicked up to a top job in the boardroom.  He doesn't realize it but he's really being set up to take the fall for some corporate greed.
I also loved the production design of this movie that takes place in 1950s New York City.
There were times when it reminded me of Manhattan set designs for the 1940 Preston Sturges classic, Christmas in July.  It was terrific seeing Paul Newman exercise his zany comedy muscles as Sidney J. Mussberger, top man on the board of directors.
From Hud to The Hudsucker Proxy.  Newman got better at comedy when in his prime.  The older he got, the lighter the touch.  He's delightfully loopy in this role.
Norville, while maybe not the smartest guy in town, has a talent for invention.
He'll create a Hula Hoop-like toy sensation that affects the company's profits.
Then there's Amy Archer, a female reporter who's often the smartest guy in the room.
She'll pull a fast one in order to get the scoop she wants.  But we know that she'll ultimately get tripped up in her own game and wind up falling for the fall guy.
If you're a classic film fan, I'd like your opinion on this.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is a mighty fine actress but the Coen Brothers let her make the wrong choice with that accent.  The Coen Brothers were heavily influenced by director/screenwriter Preston Sturges.  The Hudsucker Proxy is ripe with that influence.  Tim Robbins obviously gets it.  As Norville Barnes, Robbins is basically an Eddie Bracken character in a Sturges satire.  Think of Bracken as Norval Jones in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek with Betty Hutton....
...and as Woodrow Truesmith in Hail the Conquering Hero.  Woodrow tried to enlist and do his partriotic duty in World War II.  But he couldn't pass the physical.  No other Hollywood director utilized Bracken's talent as fully as Sturges did in those two films.
Robbins even has a Bracken-like physicality in his comedy.  Leigh sounds like Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year.  That's what limits the comedy in the "very good" instead of "excellent" category.  Everything else has a Preston Sturges vibe.  Katharine Hepburn was not a Preston Sturges-style actress.  She had a different energy and class.  She was more George Stevens or George Cukor.  The Coen Brothers should've had Jennifer give us some Barbara Stanwyck -- star of the 1941 Preston Sturges classic, The Lady Eve.
In that gem, written and directed by Sturges, and in 1940's Remember the Night, written by Sturges, she's the ambitious gal who can outwit the guys but ultimately gets tripped up in her own schemes.  If not Stanwyck, another good choice would've been to give us some Jean Arthur.  She starred in the 1937 screwball comedy, Easy Living.  Like Stanwyck's Remember the Night, it was directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Preston Sturges.  Both Stanwyck and Arthur played smart reporters in the Big Apple.  Stanwyck played one for Frank Capra in 1941's Meet John Doe with Gary Cooper.
Jean Arthur is out to take down a rich dope and get herself a raise in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  In both Capra films, the ace reporter dames fall for the good-hearted dopes.
I feel that Leigh's choice to sound like Kate Hepburn throws off the Preston Sturges-influenced rhythm of the picture.  It's fabulous work unto itself but not right for this film.
It's like when Stanley Kubrick got enamored with Peter Sellers and let him ad lib in Lolita.  He was funny but it threw the film off-balance.  It was the wrong tone.  Check out The Hudsucker Proxy for yourself and leave me some comments.  This gorgeously produced 1994 screwball comedy from the Coen Bros. is now on Warner Bros. Blu-Ray.



2 comments:

  1. Paul Newman is Hud... whoa, Charles Durning? I had no idea. Tim Robbins, sure.

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  2. Charles Durning was just too darn cool in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Worth seeing for his wacky performance.

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