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I owe a debt to Joel and Ethan Coen. Fargo was the cold splash of water that made 11-year-old A.J. into a film junkie, and each time a new project of theirs is announced, I turn giddy, knowing it'll be totally different than the last one. The Coen Brothers are easily my favorite working filmmakers, their strange and impressively verbose style making even the most pitch-dark of premises oddly amusing. It's tough to say which title amongst Joel and Ethan's body of work best embodies this breed of storytelling, but 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy is a worthy candidate. At its core a simple retelling of the Great American Success Story, Hudsucker's magic lies in the "how" more than the "why," its incredible production design and fine-tuned cartoon logic taking precedence and blessing the picture with more than enough out-there flair.

The Hudsucker Proxy
The year is 1958, and hopeful inventor Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) has stepped off the bus from Muncie and into Big Business' most nefarious scheme yet. Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), president of monolithic Hudsucker Industries, has gleefully took a swan dive to his death, leaving behind a nice chunk of stuck to be released to the public come the new year. Not wanting Mr. and Mrs. Schmoe to cut in on their profits, the Hudsucker board -- led by cigar-chomping Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman) -- concoct to instill panic amidst consumers and keep those shares cheap to snatch up later. Enter bumbling Norville, who at first seems to be the ideal sap to help run Hudsucker Industries into the ground. But both Mussburger and fast-talking newshound Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) have underestimated the lad, who proceeds to whip up a money-making fad that throws the whole world for a...hoop.

The Hudsucker Proxy took some flack back in the day for emphasizing showiness over a substantial plot, which, to a degree, is true. I wasn't as hopelessly ga-ga over this revisit as I was upon my first viewing as a college student, its weaker moments more visible and its manic energy not always firing on all cylinders. But ultimately, that's Hudsucker's goal, to dress up the average "American Dream" formula with kooky characters and amazing sets. It doesn't make Norville's journey any more original, but it manages to keep everything lively and chugging at a more-or-less consistently smooth pace. Actually, it's a relief that the Coens didn't opt to provide a straight lecture on how greedy and corrupt the capitalist machine can get, instead sniffing out targets for its brand of exaggerated satire from the mailroom to the boardroom.

The Hudsucker Proxy
But lest you think Hudsucker is all smarm and snark, let it be known that there's actual sincerity running through its immaculately-decorated frames. The film really believes in Norville and wants him to succeed, which shows in not quite blowing his goofiness out of proportion. Robbins turns in a terrific performance that balances his character's sweet and sadsack sides, and Newman shines as a crusty foil whose casual dismissal of anyone who isn't totally loaded is wry to perfection. Leigh's Amy Archer is the only lead who's an outright caricature (drawn from equally liberal doses of Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn), but she too isn't without her insecurities to compliment her mile-a-minute dialogue. The supporting cast is where the zany mother lode is really struck, and the many massive Hudsucker offices reflect the unreality in which the story's spirit has been molded.

The Hudsucker Proxy

Video


Warner Home Video (under the Warner Archive Collection label) gives us The Hudsucker Proxy in a 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. The image isn't flawless, with some of the brighter fonts a bit on the fuzzy side and mild grain observed from time to time. But overall, it's a more than pleasant presentation that holds up no matter where the film's environments take us. The mailroom hell in which Norville starts out is an appropriately grotesque sea of steam and aprons, while the Hudsucker boardroom has a great granite sheen, not too polished for its own good. Our opening scene, with snow falling upon a metropolis of model skyscrapers, is especially gorgeous, a great indicator of the beauty captured in detail yet to come when you pop in this disc.

The Hudsucker Proxy

Audio


The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio track more than does Hudsucker justice. Again, I point to the opening credits, where Carter Burwell's main theme sweeps you off your feet and readies you for an epic rollercoaster. The score sounds just fantastic, from that opening anthem to the "Sabre Dance" adaptation that springs up in a sequence where the nation's youth go nuts over Norville's new invention. But Hudsucker is just as busy when it comes to background noise, all of which come through in great clarity. The mailroom teems with clanging machinery, Archer's newspaper office is filled with typewriter keys at work, and gears galore grind behind the Hud building's signature clock, where narrator Bill Cobbs keeps an omnipresent watch over the characters.

Extras


None, save for the theatrical trailer. This being one of the Warner Archive Collection's inaugural Blu-ray releases, Hudsucker follows in the tradition of us being lucky to get any goodies at all. In short, if you're buying this, it's for the film itself -- which, between the picture and presentation, is worth it, should the $20 price tag ever creep down just a tad.

The Hudsucker Proxy

Overall


The Hudsucker Proxy is one daffy and affectionate film that I had a blast getting to know all over again. By no means perfect, it's still indicative of the Coens' knack for relating a well-worn story in a way that makes it stand alone when stacked up against its contemporaries. Warner gave The Hudsucker Proxy's audio and visuals a fine once-over, with the film's vision and sense of humor sealing the deal on another look being totally worth it.


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