My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We watched Absence of Malice, and I’m happy to say I bear it no malice.
We’re definitely coming to the end of Newman season. I reckon we’ve got another one or two in us before we move on. It’s my turn to choose, and I was sorely tempted to pick The Color of Money, which is likely to be the film we end Newman season with (so we can move into Cruise season!). But to be honest, both Tim and I have been a bit down in the dumps of late and needed some cheering up. For me, it’s a combination of not enjoying my job, the political nightmares on both sides of the Atlantic, the stress of moving house, and the lingering sense of malaise I’ve never managed to shift for long. Now, having not seen The Color of Money, I don’t know that it would definitely cheer me up. Last time we saw Newman play Eddie Felson it was not exactly a laugh riot. So I picked a film I knew was a stone cold cheerer upper.
A film that is bookended by people throwing themselves out of a 44th storey window (45th including the mezzanine).
I picked The Hudsucker Proxy.
The Hudsucker Proxy and me
I really like Coen Brothers films. This is not an unpopular opinion or illicit confession. Even the couple of Coen films I haven’t really enjoyed (The Man Who Wasn’t There and Intolerable Cruelty) have been watched a couple of times just to be sure. The rest is pretty much all gold.
The Hudsucker Proxy used to be regarded as something of a black sheep, critically less well regarded than much of their output. I think that’s changed over the last decade or so, and quite bloody right. It’s been two or three years since I last watched it, but I can’t imagine my view will have changed much… We’ll see.
Funnily enough this film is, so far, the only film we’ve tackled in CRFC that Tim and I have both seen together. We went to the NFT to see it in 2008, and it happened to coincide with the week of Paul Newman’s death. So we went in to the cinema thinking of it as our tribute to his career. At the time I’d only really seen Hudsucker, Butch Cassidy and The Sting; it’s going to be nice to watch it again in the context of so many of his other performances.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam. 7.2 stars.
It’s really good, gang.
The rhythm the Coens have in their comedy films is just sensational. The repetition of words, the dialogue looping back when some background character gets stuck wanting to make a point and everyone else has moved on… It’s absolutely pitch perfect in Hudsucker. A couple of weeks ago we watched A New Kind of Love, which was an attempt at a screwball comedy that just seemed anachronistic for the 60s and didn’t work at all. Here, 30 years later is a period-set screwball that absolutely nails it. It’s part Billy Wilder, part Looney Tunes.
I did vaguely remember the film going slightly off the boil, and indeed I think it probably does. But they keep you waiting. The first hour and a half or so is just brilliant scene followed by brilliant scene. There’s the board of Hudsucker Industries bickering about how to make money following Waring Hudsucker’s death and two characters constantly looping back to how many storeys Hud fell (44, no 45 including the mezzanine). There’s naive business graduate Tim Robbins staring at an incomprehensible jobs board that changes every half second but still has nothing for a fresh face (rope braider? Need experience. Cat Meats Tester? Must be experienced). There’s Robbins’ induction into the manic postroom, a riff on that other Newman classic Cool Hand Luke’s prison induction scene. There’s Paul Newman himself, playing a completely unlikeable character for once as the schemer-in-chief who engineers Robbins’ dope becoming the new CEO to depress stock prices.
And then when you’re reeling from all that in the opening twenty minutes, we cut to a newspaper office. And there’s John Mahoney (Frasier’s dad) talking as fast as he jolly well can while Bruce goddamn Campbell and a variety of character actors look on and wisecrack.
And then in walks Jennifer Jason Leigh’s reporter, the fastest talking, wisest cracking of them all and steals the whole film right there. I’d stake my Pulitzer on it.
Sure, the last quarter slows down a little, but by then things have been rattling along so quickly that the breather is almost welcome.
The film is stuffed full of brilliant character actors, as we’ve come to expect from the Coens. John Polito turns up for one scene as an irate businessman (and no-one does irate quite as well as Polito. His rant at the beginning of Miller’s Crossing is all the evidence needed). Presbo from The Wire is a jaunty lift operator full of bad taste gags about Hudsucker’s demise. There’s a brief VO from John Goodman.
Steve Buscemi runs a beatnik juice bar. In a way it feels like peak Coen, but it isn’t obnoxiously self-referential. You never get the sense that these actors are wheeled in to do a turn.
Is it my favourite Coen brothers film? For all the heady heights it hits, I don’t know that it is. What about O, Brother Where Art Thou?, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, No Country For Old Men? Don’t make me choose…
Finally, this is yet another outing for Newman’s naked torso. Any bloody excuse!
Should be called The Hud-doesn’t-suck-er Proxy, right? “You get it buddy? It’s a pun, it’s a knee-slapper, it’s a play on-”
Tim’s up next. Will he pick The Color of Money and send us into the sunlit uplands of Tom Cruise season? By his own admission, he does like to be troublesome…