Written and directed by the Coen Brothers shortly before they'd go on to mass critical acclaim with 1996's Fargo, 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy is an amusing parable about the pitfalls of greed set in the New York City of old, the Manhattan of the 1950's, a very different time for the city. The story begins when a man named Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning), the man in charge of the massive powerhouse of industry that is Hudsucker Industries takes his own life. This leaves Sidney Mussberger (Paul Newman) and everyone else on the board of directors in a bit of a bind but they soon see a devious way to profit from Waring's demise. Their scheme? To hire a buffoon to replace Waring, the theory being that they'll bring in someone so completely incompetent that the company's stock will surely tumble, allowing them to buy up as much of it as they want at ridiculously low prices shortly before they take over the company and turn it around. It's illegal, its unethical, and it just might work.
So who do they choose as Waring's replacement? A naïve but idealistic mailroom employee named Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), a quirky sort who relishes his chance to prove his merit at the head of the boardroom table and a man crazy enough to do exactly what Mussberger and company want him to do. Things start to get a bit complicated though when a no-nonsense reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) starts snooping around. Amy's no fool, she quickly clues in to the fact that something is not quite right at the company and so she decides to expose the shady happenings by going undercover and conducting an investigation on her own terms.
From the opening scene in which an important CEO leaps off the top of the office building he's slaved away at for untold years, a scene in which the camera pulls us along for the ride, The Hudsucker Proxy is an amazing looking film. In fact here, in this picture maybe more so than any of their other works, the Coen's seem particularly in love with the sets and locations and camera angles and wardrobe details that they use to populate their world. Every shot is set up with technical perfection and the editing done with such precision and rhythm that the movie plays out perfectly on those levels. It truly is a beautiful movie to watch, one in which you'll have no trouble getting lost even if the story fails to move you.
But will it? Well, obviously that depends. The film isn't as layered as some of the filmmaking duo's better regarded pictures but then, does it need to be? As far as escapism goes, The Hudsucker Proxy works very well. Yes, the Coen's are quite obviously pulling from older Hollywood films. From the depiction of Robbins' goofy but well meaning nincompoop to Jennifer Jason Leigh's insanely stereotyped 'tough gal' reporter we've seen many of these character types before - but who cares? The dialogue is clever, snappy, quick and enjoyable and the movie, is entertaining. It isn't particularly deep, outside of the whole 'be careful how far you go for money' messaging that it relays with no subtlety at all, but it's never short on charm.
Performances are strong across the board. Paul Newman is great as the older but wiser man who puts Robbins' likeable but completely goofy 'place holder' into the most powerful position in the company. It's interesting to see Newman play this type of character, not quite the noble ladies man he is often cast as, while Robbins infuses Barnes with enough charm that we can't help but like the guy. Jennifer Jason Leigh steals a few scenes with her work here, playing that tried and true character type with such detailed professionalism that, walking cliché or not, she really makes it work. Again though, we keep coming back to the visuals, that attention to detail in the film that really makes it so golly gee gosh darned pretty to look at. Occasionally it does feel like it's veering into style over substance and maybe it is, but there's enough odd humor here that it's perfectly easy to go along with where the film wants to take us, even if it ultimately doesn't end up to be as interesting a destination as the places that some of the Coen's other films have taken us to.
Warner Archive presents The Hudsucker Proxy on a pressed 25GB Blu-ray disc (not a burned on demand disc) framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and in full AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The film tries some interesting things with its color scheme depending on where a particular scene is taking place or who is in it, and this is reflected nicely in the transfer. There are no issues with print damage to note, and fine grain is present throughout. Whatever cleanup has been done here, if any, doesn't seem to have really harmed the film-like texture most fans usually want to see on Blu-ray - you'll notice this in the shots that take place out on the streets of New York City but also in the costumes and hats and set decorations used throughout the movie too. Detail is nice in the close up shots and remains strong in medium and long distance shots as well. Black levels are pretty solid and there are no compression artifacts or obvious edge enhancement issues of note. All in all, the movie looks quite good here.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is clean, clear and well balanced and you're never left doubting that this is less than an accurate representation of how the movie is supposed to sound. The quirky score from Carter Burwell sounds good, the dialogue is crisp and clear and easy to follow and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. Optional English closed captioning is provided. All in all, this is a nice mix that suits the movie rather well and improves on the old Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix included on the 1999 DVD in terms of depth and range.
Outside of a menu and chapter selection, the only extra on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer.
Some substantial extras might have been nice but that didn't happen. This is, however, a very respectable presentation of a sorely underrated entry in the Coen Brothers' filmography. Like all of their films, it's not one for all tastes but those who appreciate their brand off oddball quirk and humor should surely enjoy what they're conjured up with The Hudsucker Proxy and Warner Archive's Blu-ray release is currently the best way to do just that. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.