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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Spoof > Business > Corporations > The Hudsucker Proxy (1994/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994/Warner Archive Blu-ray)


Video: A-     Audio: B+     Extras: C-     Film: D



PLEASE NOTE: The Hudsucker Proxy Blu-ray is only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.



The Hudsucker Proxy, released in 1994 (after some delays, despite Joel Silver actually backing the film) and one of the first MOD Blu-Rays from Warner Archive, is the Coen Brothers' fifth film, sandwiched between Barton Fink and the film that shot them to superstardom, Fargo.  Given its place in the Coens' filmography, you'd think that Proxy would be some sort of bridge connecting the opening phase of their career with the epic successes that came after.  But you'd be wrong.  Proxy is a misstep, creatively and narratively, that foreshadowed the worst of the Coens (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) rather than the genius responsible for The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?


You can parse the film as many ways as you'd like, but at its root the problem is in its conception.  Proxy hit at the tail end of Hollywood's odd Art Deco nostalgia trip, which included Dick Tracy in 1990 and The Rocketeer in 1991, and it desperately wants to be part of that 1930s screwball tradition. It ensconces itself in the look and tradition of those films, from the font in the opening credits to the set design to the plot. Yet everything feels off.


Let's start with the plot, which is ripped right out of the Capra playbook.  A lovable doofus, Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), is elevated from Huducker Industries mail room flunky to puppet boardroom president by the unscrupulous Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman).  Hudsucker's CEO just leapt out of the building, see, and Mussburger plans on installing untested Norville as the end of the company to drive its stock into the ground, buy up all the shares at rock bottom prices, then rebuild the company and make a killing.  But he doesn't count on Norville being a savant (he invents the hula hoop, "you know, for kids"), or that crack investigative reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) will go from fast-talking, tough-as-nails skeptic bent on destroying Norville to fast-talking, tough-as-nails believer dedicated to protecting him.  As stories like this go, Norville gets too big for his britches, falls on hard times, and is redeemed by rediscovering his common humanity (thanks in no small part to the love of a strong woman).


Been there, done that.  And that's not inherently a problem — in later films, the Coens honed their ability to take tried and tested tropes and rejuvenate them (see: Lebowski). But not so here.  Proxy is so Capra-esque and so screwball that it can't possibly stand on its own merit. It's as if the Coens had so little confidence in the story that they fell back, hard, on reference points.  Unsurprisingly, the end product feels like hackneyed, almost heartless pastiche.  And since it seems like the Coens aren't into the film, we can't get into it either.  They made a boring film, and at 111 minutes, Proxy feels interminable.  To pass the time, our minds wander to all those other, better movies referenced here that we could be watching (His Girl Friday, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and on and on).


Worse, though, is the mind-boggling aesthetic incongruity of the film:  It has all the tenets of a movie made in the '30s, yet it's set in the late 1950s.  From the sets to the costumes, everything has a Deco feel — but not a worn out, Modernism-looms Deco.  Everything feels new and large and imposing, as if the city Hudsucker looms over was transported 20 years into the past at the end of the war.  (There are also stray allusions to dystopian films like Brazil and a then-recent version of Orwell’s 1984, especially in the early mailroom scenes, that just throw everything out of whack.)


Then there are the performances. Leigh pulls her best Rosalind Russell/Jean Arthur impression, but it comes off as stilted and anachronistic, more grating than gratifying.  That goes for Robbins' hammy performance, too, which seems cranked to 11 to compensate for Norville's wooden character's two-dimensionality.  Unsurprisingly, Newman is far and away the best thing about the film.  But Mussburger is a straight-from-central-casting bad guy.  All he's missing is a top hat and a few twirls of a mustache to make his mwah-ha-ha villainy complete.


Suffice it to say, The Hudsucker Proxy is not the Coens' finest hour. There is a prototypical quality to the film, in that if you squint really, really hard you can see the beginnings of Lebowski, O Brother, and A Serious Man.  Proxy lacks the maturity and confidence that have become ubiquitous with their work.  They reached for it in Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink and seized it for good in Fargo. Here, though, they are way, way off course.


That said, Warner Archives' MOD Blu-Ray release is excellent.


The DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Master Audio lossless mix (with Pro Logic surrounds, though this was a 5.1 theatrical release!) is deep and rich, giving ample space for dialogue to coexist with a fairly robust soundtrack and was the first Coen Brothers film issued theatrically in digital sound.  One scene, set inside the gears and mechanics of a clock tower, has at least three primary sound elements (dialogue, score, effects) that all work together with nothing getting lost or overwhelmed.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital high-definition transfer, meanwhile, is something to behold.  Proxy isn't the most colorful film, relying more on earth tones and muted corporate palettes, yet there's a vibrancy to the film that comes through.  The texture and depth of the film similarly dazzles, giving the film a sheen not seen since its first screenings 20 years ago.


And to get a sense of just how good the transfer is, check out the trailer (the lone extra feature) included on the disc.  It's grainy, beat up and clearly a couple decades old.  As trailers go it's nothing special.  But it does provide a nice opportunity to compare what home video transfers were like in the VHS days with what we have today – and just how lovingly The Hudsucker Proxy was treated for this release.




To order The Hudsucker Proxy, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:





-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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