Film: The Hudsucker Proxy
You know, for kids!
A 1994 retro-screwball comedy directed by The Coen Brothers
, from a story devised by them and Sam Raimi
. A box office and critical flop when it was released, but has been somewhat Vindicated by History
Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins
), a recently graduated business major, makes his way from his hometown of Muncie, Indiana, to New York City to "make it big." He winds up working in the mailroom of the monolithic Hudsucker Industries, whose CEO, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning
), has recently committed suicide. On the day he is hired, Norville is given the task of delivering an important letter from Hudsucker to Sidney Mussburger (Paul Newman
), the second-in-command at Hudsucker Industries.
Meanwhile, Mussburger is upstairs trying to calm the board of directors. Apparently, Hudsucker had no will, which means according to company policy his majority stock share in the company must be put up for sale on the open market within six month's time. This means the company would be open to hostile takeover by whomever can buy the expensive shares. Mussburger hits upon the idea of appointing an idiot as a secret "proxy," someone who can be easily controlled and cause the company's profitability to tank without doing any lasting damage.
This way, with stock prices depressed because of poor profitability, Mussburger and the other members of the board can buy up the shares on the cheap quickly when they go up for sale, and maintain control.
Soon enough, Norville appears at Mussburger's door, with the letter, but Barnes is so eager to mention his ideas for the company that he never does deliver the letter, and ends up nearly killing Mussburger during their first meeting. Mussburger comes away convinced he's an idiot...but just the right kind of idiot for his needs, and so Barnes is quickly made the new CEO of Hudsucker Industries, with Mussburger's secret plan in action, and Barnes has an idea for a new toy - you know, for kids.
- Accidental Pun: "I wasn't expecting all this hoopla." Norville is so pleased with himself for stumbling on this that he milks it for all it's worth, later leading to a Lame Pun Reaction when he uses it.
- Almighty Janitor: Moses, keeper of the clock tower, is a good example; the nameless repairman is an evil example. Both seem to have humble jobs in the Hudsucker Industries hierarchy, yet both are capable of freezing time for the rest of the universe, and get into a fight over this ability at the film's climax.
- Anachronism Stew: The film is supposed to be set in 1958, but except for the beatnik and the hula hoop, everything seems more 1930s-ish.
- Arc Symbol: A plain circle.
- Artifact of Doom: The way the people in Hudsucker Industries react to the dreaded Blue Letter makes you think it was made of pure evil.
- Beatnik: Norville stumbles drunk into a Beatnik juice and coffee bar on New Year's Eve.
- Big Applesauce: The movie is set the late 50's New York City.
- Big Damn Kiss: Timed right to the crescendo of the film's theme.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: Hudsucker's letter to Sidney includes his "Sure, sure" Verbal Tic.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Moses addresses the camera directly a few times.
Moses: (after stopping the Hudsucker Industries clock, thereby freezing time itself) Strictly speaking, I'm never supposed to do this. But have you got a better idea?
- Broken Record:
What if you tire before it's done?
(Not) counting the mezzanine!
- Catch Phrase:
- Norville's "You know, for kids!", said when describing one of his new toys.
- Sidney's "Sure, sure."
- "They'll dock ya!"
- Central Theme: The film centers on a circle theme, referencing the cycle of life:
- The clock itself. One may notice that the film goes from morning to night over the course of the story — despite the story taking place over the course of a few months.
- The coffee stain leaves a circle over a potential job for Norville.
- The hula hoop, the bendy straw and the frisbee are all represented as circles.
- Chekhov's Gag: The blue letter seems like just a gag that gets Norville to meet Mussburger. It becomes an entire plot point when Hudsucker tells Norville to read it — it had been in his mail room smock the entire time — revealing that Hudsucker had bequeathed his controlling stake in the company to whoever was made his successor as CEO. Of course, Mussburger might have been the CEO had he not started his entire scheme to tank the stock so he could buy it out by giving the job to someone he thought was an idiot. Norville just happens to be the CEO... Oops.
- Circle of Shame: Around Norville after he hits bottom. Though they quickly turn into an angry mob baying for blood.
- Clock Tower: One of the defining features of the Hudsucker Industries building is its giant clock face, tended to by the mysterious, all-knowing Moses. The edges of the clock face can be seen from inside the executive offices.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sidney J. Mussburger (and to a lesser extent the rest of the board of directors).
- Creator Cameo: The Coen Brothers are in silhouette during the Hula Hoop Montage, trying to figure out a name for the toy.
- Da Editor: Amy Archer's editor (John Mahoney) is known only as Chief. He is as gruff and demanding as newspaper editors usually are in films, and has a good eye for potential big news stories. It is his suspicion of the motivation behind Hudsucker Industries' appointment of Norville as CEO that leads him to send Archer in undercover.
- Deus ex Machina:
- Oh, so very much. After over an hour of film about business practices, Norville's attempt to kill himself is stopped when an Almighty Janitor stops a clock, thus STOPPING TIME, and giving Norville time to talk to the (deceased) ex-CEO. Perfectly lampshaded by Moses, in his Breaking the Fourth Wall quote above.
- Mussberger being saved by the fact that even though he refused to pay for it, his tailor decided to give his suit a double stitch anyway — which ends up saving his life.
- Divine Race Lift: It's implied that the clock tower worker may be God.
- The Dog Bites Back: Late in the film, Norville runs into Buzz, the bellhop he fired and humiliated earlier. Buzz immediately decks him one for it and then organizes a mob to chase him down.
- Dream Sequence: A hot one, too, showing Norville dancing the tango with a beautiful woman to "Carmen" from Habanera.
- Driven to Suicide:
- Norville after his fall from grace.
- Mussburger once he learns of Hudsucker's Lost Will And Testament.
- And, of course, Hudsucker himself.note
- Expy: Mussberger is J.J. Hunsecker as a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "The Man from Muncie: a Moron after all! Read all about it!"
- Football Fight Song: Used as both a Meaningful Echo and Rousing Speech.
Fight on, fight on Dear Old Muncie
Fight on, hoist the gold and blue
You'll be tattered, torn, and hurten
Once the Munce is through with you
- Glass Smack and Slide: At the beginning, Waring Hudsucker commits suicide by running on top of the council table and jumping through a window from the top of the skyscraper. Later, one of the executives, thinking that he is ruined, tries to kill himself in the exact same way — except that he smacks flat against the replaced glass pane, staying comically stuck there for several seconds (with the aforementioned close-up on his face from the other side) before sliding down.
- Greek Chorus: In the diner scene, the two flatulent cabbies who narrate the entirety of Amy Archer's play to win her way into Norville Barnes' graces.
Lou: That gag's so old it's got whiskers on it!
- High Heel-Face Turn: Amy Archer goes undercover at Hudsucker as a country-girl secretary to expose Norville as an imbecile. She ends up falling in love with him instead.
- Holy Halo: Lampshaded by the late Mr. Hudsucker calling it a "fad" with the "boys upstairs". Note that the halo is behaving like a hula hoop.
- Hot Scoop: Amy Archer
- How We Got Here: The film opens with Norville Barnes climbing onto the ledge outside his office window at midnight on New Year's Eve, preparing to jump to his death. We spend the next hour and a half learning about the events that have driven Norville to such depths of despair.
- Intrepid Reporter: Amy Archer, naturally, as a Shout-Out to Rosalind Russell's Hildy in His Girl Friday.
- It Will Never Catch On: Nobody has much confidence in Norville's Hula Hoop. Norville similarly dismisses Buzz's idea for the Bendy Straw. No-one doubts Norville's idea for the Frisbee will work by the end of the film.
- Lack of Empathy: Mussberger is about as cold as you can get.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Sidney J. Mussburger. At the end of the film, he discovers that according to Hudsucker's will, he would have become majority owner of the company had he stepped in as CEO at Hudsucker's death, but by appointing Norville as CEO, he has made Norville majority owner instead. The revelation drives him to suicide, and he finishes the film in a sanitarium.
- Literal Cliffhanger: Norville, after changing his mind about jumping and then slipping off the edge anyway.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Vic Tenetta bears a striking resemblance to Dean Martin.
- Lost Will And Testament: Hudsucker didn't leave one behind, which is why Mussburger developed the proxy plan in the first place. Turns out, the blue letter Norville was supposed to deliver to Mussburger was the will, giving the stock to whomever the board appointed the new CEO of the company, giving Norville one heck of an Unexpected Inheritance.
- Magical Negro: Moses, keeper of the Hudsucker Industries clock tower, not only has the keenest insights into the events of the film of any character, but also has the power to stop time itself by jamming the clock's mechanism.
- Motif: Time, circles, and cycles.
- Motor Mouth: Amy occasionally, but most prominently the mail room orientation guy. Also, Buzz.
- Mr. Exposition: The narrator handyman. Also, the pair of cab drivers, to a lesser extent.
- Mundane Made Awesome:
- The entire process detailing the invention and production of the Hula Hoop (a.k.a. Extruded Plastic Dingus). Detailed blueprints are produced and patented, the entire accounting department performs extensive research to come up with the retail price (of $1.79), a trio of guys run through countless names for the project, safety is practiced using explosives, and a fairly elaborate machine is used to make the things.
- Double-stitching. "That's-a one-a strong-a stitch!"
- Mysterious Middle Initial: Sidney J. Mussburger.
- Na´ve Newcomer: Norville, fresh from business school, ends up in the mailroom but has big ideas. When he learned Amy is a journalist who only approached him because of her work, he still believes she is from Muncie.
- Newsreel: One provides exposition about the hula hoop craze — with narration by John Goodman.
- One of the Boys: Amy Archer, fast-talking career gal.
- Overly Long Gag: The laughing scene after Norville becomes president.
- Phrase Catcher: Something about Norville seems to bring the word "imbecile" to mind for a lot of people.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The theme is the Adagio from Aram Khachaturian's Spartacus.
- Rhymes on a Dime: "Hiya buddy, the name's Buzz, I got the fuzz, I make the elevator do what she does!"
Buzz: Mr. Kline, up to 9. Mrs. Nell, personnel. Mr. Levin, 37.
Mr. Levin: Uh, 36
Buzz: Walk. Down.
- Serious Business:
- A very literal example. The scene showing an ironic amount of Research and Development that went into designing... a circular piece of plastic. From blueprints with just a circle on them to an army of accountants to decide the MSRP.
- "BLUE LETTER!!!" The mere sight of it causes Buzz and everyone else in the elevator with Norville to panic as Buzz decides to speed up Norville's journey to the boardroom.
- Soft Glass: Used both straight and subverted.
- Speaking Simlish: There's one instance where Norville claims to have studied Finnish and engages in a short discussion with a Mr. Finlandsson- not a single word of Finnish is actually spoken, but a rather Swedish-sounding string of nonsense, and the film plays this as if Barnes spoke something higly offensive to Mr. Finlandsson.
- Springtime for Hitler: The executives' scheme to drive down Hudsucker Industries' stock price so they can buy it en masse for pennies on the dollar by appointing an idiot to be CEO backfires when said idiot CEO ends up making the company a fortune and actually causes an increase in the stock price.
- Stealth Pun: The last line in the film.
Moses: And that's the story of how Norville Barnes climbed waaay up to the forty-fourth floor of the Hudsucker Building, and then fell all the way down but didn't quite squish hisself. You know, they say there was a man who jumped from the forty-fifth floor? But that's another story!
- Time Stands Still: Time miraculously stops when a broomstick jams the gears of the clock tower, allowing Norville to survive the fall from the Hudsucker building ledge, have a chat with the angel of the late Mr. Hudsucker in mid-air, and learn that the company is all his according to the infamous Blue Letter... yet the snow never stops falling.
- Unexpected Inheritance: Norville didn't expect to inherit Waring Hudsucker's shares of Hudsucker Industries.
- We Could Have Avoided All This: From Mussburger's perspective. If only he read the Blue Letter.
- What an Idiot: Invoked in-universe by Mussberger on Norville, which makes him a perfect candidate for his plan.
- Where It All Began: Norville is wearing his old mailboy's uniform at the end. Which is a good thing, since the outfit still had the undelivered Blue Letter.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Mussburger didn't have much time to get used to being CEO of Hudsucker Industries before Hudsucker's will renders his efforts moot.
You know... for kids!