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The Hudsucker Proxy

A movie directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

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The Circle of life

  • Feb 6, 2010
When Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) pulls a small creased and stained scrap of paper from his shoe to show his new company's boss (Paul Newman) his great idea, he points eagerly to the circle penned on the square, and when Newman just blinks disgustedly at him, Barnes says "you know, for kids". This of course is after a stunning barrage of events that started the movie:

--Hudsucker Industries has just had its best year ever with all signs looking up, but company founder Hudsucker responds by taking a leap from the 44th floor ("45th, if you count the mezzanine") boardroom window.

--Norville Barnes, a "idea man" fresh (and fresh-faced) from Muncie, Indiana and its business school, has just arrived in New York City seeking to make his way to the top in the world of ideas--which starts at the bottom of the mail room, where a grizzled 40-year veteran of the mail room has the same response to Barnes's circle.

--Sid Mussburger (Newman), Hudsucker's righthand man, has realized that without Hudsucker and the 87% of stock he owned (which will now be sold on the open market), he and the board will lose control of their cushy moneymaker, so they have determined to hire a loser, a patsy, a schmoe, to quickly depress the stock values so they can afford to buy up the stock and retain control, so they can then fire their patsy and right the ship.

In walks Barnes, who promptly sets fire to Mussburger's office and causes a huge contract to be destroyed (a big deal in the days of manual typewriters and "mimeograph" machines. The Hudsucker has found its Proxy. Craziness ensues.

As the Coen Brothers continue their cinematic examination of identity, they also continue their tour through classic Hollywood genres

Blood Simple was a great noir debut about misunderstanding identity.
Raising Arizona was a screwball comedy about stealing an identity.
Miller's Crossing was a deep gangster movie about discovering identity ("Nobody knows anybody. Not that well")
Barton Fink was a Hollywood insiders movie about understanding your own identity.

Hudsucker is a fast-talking dialogue driven 1930s comedy (that would have starred Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn back in the day--see The Philadelphia Story) about keeping your identity in the face of all odds against. As with the other Coens, this movie never caricatures the genre it adopts, but pays homage to and cleverly recreates extends it. Set in 1958, despite its 1930s roots, it is lavishly set in a massive Art-Deco building, all angle, lines, and modern function-formed motion. The clothes are Organbization Man (and manishly Feminine, which becomes a point of discussion). The backdrops, over the unsleeping city are stylized, not realistic. The dialogue is so fast and staccato it almost needs subtitles for us today, now so alien to the culture.

And the circle of life-ahh, yes, I'm coming to that (it wasn't just meant as a catchy title to draw your eye to this review). Barnes's circle is--the hula hoop. It will make Hudsucker millions, and upset Mussburger's plans. But the movie isn't about that. Its about circles--the front of the Hudsucker building is adorned by a huge circular clock face that is present, from front or back , in almost every shot. Significantly, it is visible from behind in Mussburger's office, but not from Barnes's, even though it is on the same floor on the same side of the building as the clock. Clocks, with their circular faces, and time, with its circular motion, is very important throughout the movie. Things happen when the big hand of the clock reaches twelve--New Years, starting time, closing time, meetings.

The circle as symbol moves even closer to the center of the movie when Barnes, wooing his love interest (Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Katherine Hepburn role), refers to her as a gazelle in a past role on the circle of life--yes, he uses the term, and yes, it is as lame as it sounds. For Robbins, in the role as Barnes, while he has the simplicity and wisdom to invent the hula hoop and understand its appeal, is every bit the loser, patsy, and schmoe (and yes, they use those terms--remember the genre, the time, and the setting) that the Hudsucker brass were lookiing for. But as the loser, he is lovable and redeemable; when he fails to keep that simple and lovable identity, and turns into a callow young disciple of Mussburger (hearing Robbins repeating some of Newman's lines word for word is hysterical and displays the great acting talents of both), he loses hims self in and on the circle.

Even the resolution at the climax of the movie is driven by the clock--that beautiful art-deco clock face on the front of the building has behind it a whirring assemblage of gears and wheels (more circles!) constantly turning and constantly in need of maintenance. To say more would be to give away too much of the movie. Enjoy.

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More The Hudsucker Proxy reviews
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2013
Hayseed from the midwest fresh out of college gets an entry level position at a huge company and moved up to the presidency as a way of depressing stocks so that the board can take ownership. Fast talk doesn't carry many laughs with the regular Coen wackos in comedy and the story depends on some phenominal production design to carry it the film which it thankfully does.
review by . November 05, 2001
I admit I didn't see this movie for years because of its strange title, but it kept appearing in various places. Finally, I put it on my "to watch" list and it was an enjoyable movie. Waring Hudsucker, head of Hudsucker Industries, commits suicide, his board of directors, led by Sidney Mussberger, come up with a plan to make a lot of money and appoint a moron to run the company and drive down stock prices. When the stock falls low enough, Sidney and co. plan to buy the stock for pennies on the dollar, …
review by . May 17, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Newman - what a friggin guy!     Cons: ...     Quite a bizarre twist of fate. President and CEO of Hudsucker Industries has taken that fatal big step out of the top floor window. Suddenly a high profile position in a relatively successful company is available and is given to all people - a mail room boy. Of course, there is a foul plan afoot, why else choose this unknown for a high power position?      Chairman of the board, Sidney …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this movie


The Coen brothers (Raising Arizona,Fargo) have become the most consistently original filmmakers in the land. In a salute/reworking of the fast-talking comedies of the '40s, we follow Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) and his amazing rise to the top. But he's only a puppet for the evil Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman), who wants the company for himself. The Coens' design is the real star, and their first big-budget film will stimulate movie fans. The story weakens in the middle, but you will find very few films that move with this much imagination. As a Kate Hepburn hybrid, Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderful in an almost unplayable role. The less you know about the film, the better it plays, so just think of it asHow to Succeed in Business Without Really Tryingmixed withBraziland every journalistic drama made before 1960. Cowritten by Sam Raimi.--Doug Thomas
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