So, as a bunch of baseball writers pointed out this week, pretty much every film nerd has played The Coen Bros. Game.
As everyone knows, the Coen Bros. Game is just ranking every Coen Bros. movie, 1 through 16. Which of course is possible only because so many film nerds have seen all 16 of them
Personally, I’ve seen 15 and I’m comfortable putting the one I haven’t (The Ladykillers) at the bottom without seeing it. Everyone else puts it at the bottom having seen it, so why go through the pain? But the thing that I have long found baffling – and continue to find baffling, actually – is why so many people put The Hudsucker Proxy at the bottom of the list.
The baseball film nerds put it at 14 of 16, above only Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. When Indiewire played the game when Inside Llewyn Davis came out, they put it at 13, dropping True Grit down below it as well. When a reviewer at The Atlantic played the game to commemorate the 30th birthday of Blood Simple, he put it at 15. That’s really harsh.
For a very long time, I’ve had The Hudsucker Proxy in my top three or four. I plan on replaying the game at the end of this viewing epic, but – based on my enjoyment of of this particular rewatch, it’s going to remain in the top half of the list at the very least.
Look. This thing has Paul Newman in it. Playing the villain. His opening line is:
It’s a pity to waste a whole Montechristo
And then he puffs on the cigar of a guy who just jumped off a window 45 floors (including the mezzanine) up.
The adagio from Spartacus by Khachaturian is woven into become the main theme, and that thing is glorious and uplifting.
OK, I get that this film is incredibly stylised – it’s a 1950s set, 1990s version, of a 1930s screwball comedy – and I get that maybe that doesn’t work for everyone. But it really, really works for me.
(The Very Important Blue Letter is literally a blue envelope that says says BLUE LETTER on it, C’MON!)
What I noticed this time that’d I’d not nticed before is how far ahead of the game the Coens were on spotting and highlighting the stock market shenanigans that are the central conceit of of the film. At the top of the Hudsucker building, Sidney Mussberger and his board plot to make themselves richer by installing a dummer CEO. At the bottom of the building, Norville Barnes searches desperately for a job that will get him onto the ladder (or elevator, this being a Coen brothers film) that he hopes will take him all the way to the top floor, but is faced by advert after advert saying, ‘Experience required.’ Of course, the film also makes it clear that no matter how smart Mussberger and Co. think that they are, they can still be undone by crazy random happenstance – in this case, the hula hoop.
(And also, potentially, by a battle between good and evil at the heart of the clock tower)
- Empty Roads? No. The ‘empty wastelands’ in this film are a long empty boardroom table running down to a window, and a long empty office containing only Sidney Mussberger’s desk at the far end.
- Terrifyingly bright daylight: No. The existential horror lurks in the steaming cogs of the clock in the Hudsucker Building.
- Incredible Carter Burwell score? Yus. I love the way he incorporates music – in this case Khachaturian’s adagio and the sabre dance – in his scores.
- Very realistic violence? No, this is a remarkably univalent movie – but there are a couple of good punches.
- Extremely black lines delivered straight? “We could have opened the window” (even better a response to suicide than Newman’s cigar line).
- An obsession with odd hair? No one has particularly odd hair, I think, though there are some solid period stylings and a dodgy Steve Buscemi moustache.
And pretty great female leads?
YES. Indeed, it would be fair to say that Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Amy Archer, fast-talking journalist in the Rosalind Russell His Girl Friday mode, is probably the thing that really makes the film for me. She’s smart, she’s got oodles of gumption, and – like so many of the Coen’s female leads, she’s not perfect but she is imperfect because people are and not just because her flaws enable the man’s character development (though they do help drive the plot, but no more, I think than the flaws of the male characters).
Amy snags Norville as a mark, and the men at the bar laugh at her but she knows exactly what she’s doing. It gets her into unexpected trouble with him, but she does it because all of her experience of ‘important men’ so far have told her that she won’t land an interview with them if she doesn’t. Yes, she stereotypes him as a moron, but then he stereotypes her (without knowing she is her) – and to me it feels much crueller because both as CEO and as a man (for neither of which he had to work) – and even with the class divide that is at play for Norville – he is granted more power and authority than her and doesn’t have to work nearly hard to earn the respect. The only thing I wish is that Amy were allowed to be happy as the smart-ass, fast-talking career woman. I’d like Hudsucker even more if Norville were a bonus on top of that, not a solution to unhappiness. It’s here that Hudsucker Proxy falls down on His Girl Friday, which achieves a slightly more even balance for Hildy than Hudsucker does for Amy.