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Film / The Hudsucker Proxy

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A 1994 retro-screwball comedy directed by The Coen Brothers, from a story devised by them and Sam Raimi.

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 left no will, which means that 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 whoever 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. With stock prices depressed because of poor profits, Mussburger and the other members of the board can quickly buy up the shares on the cheap when they go up for sale, and thus maintain control of the company.

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.
  • All for Nothing: Within seconds of Hudsucker's death, Mussberger proposes a plan to save the company from the ruin that will result when Hudsucker's majority share of the company is offered for public sale. He has no idea that Hudsucker willed his shares to the next president of the company.
  • Almighty Janitor: Moses, keeper of the clock tower, is a good example; Aloysius the 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.
  • Arc Words: "Long live the Hud" and "Out with the old, in with the new."
    • "You know, for kids!"
    • "The future is now." Both Hudsucker Industries' prominently-featured motto, and an important line in Waring Hudsucker's will.
  • 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.
  • Bad Boss: Sidney Mussburger. On top of his scheme to devalue Hudsucker stock, he vetoes a CEO candidate because the man is loyal, intelligent, and honest... them decides that's a good reason to fire him.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Mussburger falls out of a window, we see a client angrily demanding to see him, asking "Did he fall out a window, too?" The way the shot is framed, with a window directly behind the client, we expect to see Mussburger plummet past, but Norville has saved him.
  • Beatnik: Norville stumbles drunk into a Beatnik juice and coffee bar on New Year's Eve.
  • Batman Gambit: It's implied that Waring Hudsucker predicted exactly what course of action Mussberger would take - a not unreasonable assumption, since Mussburger starts planning the company's next course of action barely seconds after Hudsucker has hit the pavement - and drafted the Blue Letter knowing that Mussberger would elect a proxy as President instead of taking the position himself.
  • Big Applesauce: The movie is set in late-'50s 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!
  • Catchphrase:
    • 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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After he finds out that Amy is a New York reporter who lied about her background and credentials to get close to him, Norville is shocked to see that kind of dishonesty coming from a Muncie girl.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sidney J. Mussburger (and to a lesser extent the rest of the board of directors).
  • Creator Cameo: Writer Sam Raimi is 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.
  • Debating Names: Part of the Hudsucker Corporation's effort to market the "Extruded Plastic Dingus" toy involves marketing a catchy name; two ad men are seen running through a list of bizarre names ("The Shazamator! The Hipster! The Daddy-O!") and eventually argue between "Hoopsucker" and "Hudswinger." Finally, a third ad man speaks up with something that ultimately sticks... the "Hula Hoop."
  • 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.
    • Mussburger 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 lift attendant that he fired and humiliated earlier. Buzz immediately decks him one for it and then organizes a mob to chase him down.
  • The Dreaded: BLUE LETTER!!!
    • Sid Mussburger is notably the only one who can make Buzz shut his Motor Mouth on sight.
  • Dream Sequence: A hot one, too, showing Norville dancing the tango with a beautiful woman to "Habanera" from Carmen.
  • 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 
  • Drunk with Power: Norville, after his hula hoop idea is an unexpected smash hit.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mussburger's reaction to one name put forward while he fields potential presidents on the phone:
    Sidney J. Mussburger: I said dumb, not psychotic!
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Mussburger never even considers the notion that Waring Hudsucker would name him the company's legitimate heir and president in his will, and plunges straight ahead into his stock-depression scheme. Then again, this may have been Hudsucker's plan all along; see Batman Gambit above.
  • Expy:
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "The Man from Muncie: a Moron after all! Read all about it!"
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: Moses knocks out Aloysius' dentures while they fight over the stopped clock. After pulling out his mop handle to defeat the evil repairman (who looks a lot less sinister without his choppers), Moses uses the teeth to jam up the gears again and keep Norville from going splat.
  • 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 hurtin'
    Once the Munce is through with you
    Goooooooooo Eagles!
  • 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.
    Sidney J. Mussburger: Plexiglas. Had it installed last week.
  • 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. They seem to be making their observations into a game.
    Both: Lumbago.
    Lou: That gag's so old it's got whiskers on it!
  • Herr Doktor: Dr. Bronfenbrenner, the psychiatrist Mussberger hires to have Norville committed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Hudsucker killed himself because despite being richer than Midas, Mussburger took the only thing he truly cared about - his girl. In the end, he killed himself and intended to bequeath the company to Mussburger.
  • Important Haircut: When Norville is appointed president he gets his hairstyle changed from a curly mess to a professional crew cut during the laughing sequence.
  • Improbable Weapon User: During their brawl in the clock tower, Alousius swipes at Moses with his paint scraper. Moses responds by knocking him off the catwalk with his broom.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Extruded plastic dingus".
  • Intrepid Reporter: Amy Archer, naturally, as a Shout-Out to Rosalind Russell's Hildy in His Girl Friday.
  • Instant Expert: A kid randomly finds a hula hoop and tries it out. Despite being the first person besides possibly its inventor to use one, he masterfully spins it around his hips, ankles and neck without ever missing a beat and impresses all the other kids in school.note 
  • 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, though at least he has a working prototype instead of just of a drawing of a circle that time.
  • Kick the Dog: Norville takes hold of the Jerkass Ball just long enough to fire poor Buzz simply for coming to him with an idea for the bendy straw, which is especially dickish because only a short time before, Norville was just a little guy with a big idea, too.
  • Lack of Empathy: Mussburger is about as cold as you can get.
  • The Lad-ette: Amy is just one of the boys at the newspaper.
  • 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.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Vic Tenetta (Peter Gallagher) bears a striking resemblance to Dean Martin. He even sings one of Martin's famous songs, "Memories are Made of This".
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Norville, after changing his mind about jumping and then slipping off the edge anyway.
  • 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.
  • Magical Realism: For the most part, it's a goofy (in the "screwball" sense) yet realistic film about a man's rise and fall... and then the climax involves angels (both good and evil) and a clock that is apparently the physical manifestation of time itself.
  • Motif: Time, circles, and cycles.
  • Motor Mouth: The mail room orientation guy and Buzz the elevator attendant. Amy also has the "fast-talking, transatlantic career gal" shtick down pat (In his autobiography, Bruce Campbell describes Jennifer Jason Leigh as an acting machine, able to nail her rapid-fire dialogue perfectly after as little as a single read-through).
  • 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), two 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.
  • Naïve 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.
    • During the argument over the product name for Norville's invention, the secretary outside the room is seen reading War and Peace, Part I. Then Part II of the same book. Then Anna Karenina...
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Mind, he only did it as part of a scheme to smear Norville Barnes as a fraud, but Mussburger's plan does include giving Buzz his job back, after Norville unjustly fired him.
    • Mussburger's tailor decides to give him a double-stitch in his suit free of charge after he decided not to pay extra for it. It saves Mussburger's life.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: The Hudsucker board never memorizes Norville's hometown correctly, confusing Muncie with Sheboygan and Dubuque.
  • Sassy Secretary: Mussburger's two secretaries and what Amy Archer goes undercover as.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Speaking Simlish: There's one instance where Norville claims to have studied Finnish and engages in a short discussion with a Mr. Finlandson- 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 highly offensive to Mr. Finlandson.
  • Spoiler Cover: Both the DVD and VHS cover art spoil one of the funniest jokes in the movie.
  • 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.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: When the film was first released, discovering that the circle referred to a hula hoop was a surprise; the film carefully saves it for The Reveal. A later poster made it blatantly obvious, ruining one of the movie's best jokes.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: When Norville reads the Blue Letter aloud.
    Norville: "Accordingly, I hereby bequeath all of my shares in Hudsucker Industry to whomever you and the board shall elect succeed me as president..."
    Angel!Hudsucker: Tough titty toenails! (laughs) That'll show the bastard!
  • 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.