Extruded plastic dingus, for kids

Last week I posted here some embarrassing anecdotes about my experiences as a color timer in the early 1990s—and I’d intended to immediately follow it up with a sequel.  The first post was about Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—a film I knew was a commercial and critical disappointment, and I thought it was funny trying to pretend I was the reason for its problems.  And so the sequel would flip the story—a Hollywood film I came near, but which soared to great heights because I was kept safely far away from it.

Except when I sat down to start writing this, I was absolutely jaw-droppingly gob-smacked to discover that my whole premise was flawed.  To my utter astonishment, I learned that the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy was not considered a success.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.

[wpvideo 1gYAMQm0]

The reviews at the time were harsh. Roger Ebert said there was “something dead at the heart of all this.” Richard Schickel said “the Coens have deliberately cut themselves off from their best subject,” and called the result “heavy, lifeless, and dry.” Kenneth Turan said “if this is a triumph, it is a zombie one. Too cold, too elegant, too perfect.”

The Austin Chronicle called it “a fairy tale without any lessons, a satire without any targets.” TV Guide called it “a very small joke write very large.” USA Today referred to its “frigid soul.” The Boston Globe said that “its externals are brilliant, but The Hudsucker Proxy is virtually nothing but externals.”

THE_HUDSUCKER_PROXY_1

I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention my part in all this: those brilliant externals, specifically the camera swooping through the snowy cityscape at the start and climax of the film was a model shot prepared by my lab. I never touched it–my boss, the great Russ Suniewick, had figured out by now my limitations and knew to keep me segregated from anything important, so I just stood respectfully in the back of the room and watched quietly.

[wpvideo uFuzDIfl]

I wasn’t really all that sure what I was watching. I didn’t know the name of the film, but when The Hudsucker Proxy finally opened in 1994 I recognized the scenes immediately and jumped up and down in my chair like an oversugared toddler (“hey lookit! lookit!“)

And perhaps that rush of exhiliration obscured my reason, but I don’t think so. I remember really enjoying the film on its own merits–and I’ve always admired it on repeat viewings since. I thought the DVD was a bit lackluster so when I saw it was coming out on Blu-Ray, I intended to upgrade–and that’s when I started, for the very first time, to get a sense that my appreciation of The Hudsucker Proxy wasn’t shared by all: how come this Blu Ray is coming out on Warner Archive?

THE_HUDSUCKER_PROXY_3

But the penny didn’t drop even then. It wasn’t until I started writing this essay about two weeks before you’re reading it that I looked the movie up on IMDB to fact check a few things, and finally realized this was not the beloved movie classic I had always assumed it to be.

I mean, on one level, I shouldn’t be so shocked.  I am, as you well know, a terrible judge of what other people like.  My favorite music I have to get by odd means because they’re generally too obscure to even be available on iTunes.  If I fall in love with something at Trader Joe’s, that’s a sure sign it’s about to be discontinued (I really liked that flax seed pasta!  I liked the damn flax seed croissants too!  I happen to like flax seeds!).

But I know this pathology of mine—I’m familiar with its contours.  I know I tend to champion unloved movies (Three’s a Crowd, Popeye, Star Trek The Motion Picture), but I generally know that going in.  With Hudsucker Proxy, it’s not that I set out to be contrarian—I genuinely believed other people liked it too.  I don’t remember any negative reaction when I saw it theatrically.

I’m playing catch-up here, but from what I’ve read in the last week I gather the objection is that Hudsucker Proxy was cold, off-putting, and robotically mannered.  But, isn’t every Coen Brothers movie like that?

[wpvideo 07aAMeNT]

If you’re going to accuse it of a meticulously mannered genre homage that veers into parody, how come that doesn’t also apply to, y’know, every other Coen Brothers film? Or to pluck a specific example–what about The Big Lebowski and its ludicrous parody of The Big Sleep?

One possible explanation is that the lovable stoner schlub played by Jeff Bridges in Big Lebowski is easier to root for, and connect to emotionally, than the jerky manchild played by Tim Robbins in Hudsucker.

THE_HUDSUCKER_PROXY_2

Another factor is that Big Lebowski riffs on film noir–arguably the most solidly beloved genre of old Hollywood, and if there’s one thing Americans can’t get enough of, it’s crime thrillers. As long as the Coens stayed in the crime thriller wheelhouse (Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, etc) they were free to experiment with genre parody, overly stylized visuals, dream sequences, and anything else that caught their fancy without risking their audience.

[wpvideo m8dPlovq]

Whereas the genre at the root of The Hudsucker Proxy is screwball comedy.

I hope by now my bona fides are established when it comes to screwball, but in case you’d like a refresher I encourage you to click on my name on the top of this post and scroll back through my history where you’ll find the many months I spent laying out my argument that the transition away from silent slapstick in the 1930s wasn’t due to the advent of talkies at all but was triggered by an audience evolution in favor of screwball comedies.

What made screwball more compelling than slapstick in the 1930s was a confluence of factors.  One was the abundance of great comediennes: Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert, and so on who brought so much life and energy to a genre previously dominated by men.

Another key factor was that screwball comedies were rooted in social conditions.  The majority of screwballs either touch on or completely wallow in Depression era economics, class schisms, and politics.  Hollywood thrived for so long on selling glamour, yet the sudden onset of mass poverty made a lot of Hollywood glamour suddenly touchy.  Films like MidnightMy Man Godfrey, Holiday, and 5th Avenue Girl played both sides: they still filled the screen with the trappings of wealth and comfort but also commented darkly on those images.  Here came these ditzy comediennes playing crazy runaway heiresses in love with scruffy drifters, and just as suddenly those images of glamour were rendered acceptable again.  It was a winning formula.

Lastly, the changing relationship between men and women in society at large was reflected in the “war of the sexes” humor of 30s romantic comedies.  Let’s step back and think about this: when the first screen comedies appeared at the start of the 20th century, with the likes of Jack Bunny as their stars, the culture they depict is wholly Victorian.  Not only is the world shown in those early comedies pre-technological, with dirt roads and horses, but the whole social landscape is one we barely recognize.  Then by the 1920s, the world of Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy looks radically different.

jpg00003

Between the very dawn of movies in the late 1800s and the release of Modern Times, women gained the right to vote, birth control information went from being legally obscene to being distributed by Planned Parenthood, and the US government started tracking working conditions for women. Of course audience tastes would change as well.

And screwball comedy had a way of feeling very modern. Sure, the fast-talking characters took advantage of the newfangled talkie medium and that was a popular novelty, but even aside from that you now had films making jokes about the vexing changes in gender roles and the loosening sexual attitudes.

And here’s the irony of all this: what I’ve just described is why screwball comedies went so big so fast. They tapped into the zeitgeist in a whole new way, and they shoved the likes of Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd right off the stage.

I call that an irony because those very attributes that made screwballs huge in the 30s and 40s are precisely why they now seem so dated, and why silent slapstick manages to be as funny today as it was nearly a century ago. Films like The General, The Gold Rush, and Safety Last have very little to do with the zeitgesit of their era–they are just exceedingly well made works of cinema about acrobatic men getting hurt. And that’s just as funny today as it ever was.

But let’s take a look at one of the high points of the screwball era–Theodora Goes Wild. First let’s place it in context: it was made between the Marx Brothers’ Night at the Opera and Day at the Races; between Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, between the first Three Stooges short made for Columbia and the last shorts Buster Keaton made at Educational. I don’t know about you, but these are comedies I’ve lived with my entire life. They may be old but they don’t feel dated to me.

jpg00002

But Theodora Goes Wild is fundamentally about a society that no longer exists. It’s about a world where the author of a sexy bestseller would be ashamed to admit it, where the mere thought of a child born out of wedlock could threaten an entire family, where the prospect of a divorce augers unescapable scandal. The humor of the film is about Theodora (Irene Dunne) and how by “going wild” she deliberately explodes all of these social scandals on purpose, like an advance scout clearing a minefield, to make the world a better place for those who follow her. It’s inspirational, and thrilling, and I love this movie. But it might as well be science fiction, because every single frame of it is predicated on the belief that the audience will be shocked by her behavior. And by today’s standards the only shocking things are the repressed Puritans she terrorizes.

Which is a problem. I mean, at least with science fiction, the filmmakers tends to worry about alienating their audience and spend some screentime info-dumping the relevant information (“in this world, funky smells are treated like money, and everybody worships the giant shadow from the old bell tower because that’s where the portal to the other universe is“), whereas Theodora just takes for granted that we will accept that she doesn’t want to take credit for writing the 1936 equivalent of Fifty Shades of Gray.

My wife bought me the DVD set as a Christmas gift a few years back, and I was so excited to have a nice copy of one of my favorite comedies I insisted we all watch it right away. And it bombed. The kids walked out in boredome halfway through. Julie stuck it out to the bitter end, but then complained about what a waste of time it was to squander so much time on a movie that wasn’t even funny.

Mind you, these are veteran old movie fans. My son loves Buster Keaton and invites friends over to watch them on Blu Ray. My daughter has attended Slapsticon 5 years running. As a family we’ve seen more silent comedies theatrically than my grandmother did, and she was there for their original first runs. So it’s not an impatience with old movies per se, but an impatience with the rhythms of screwball–they are pretty shrill things at times, and deeply dated, insistent as they are on exploring the contours of a society that has since been replaced, atom for atom.

jpg00001

But here’s the thing: if all the Coens did with Hudsucker was pay homage to a forgotten and unloved movie genre, that would be enough of a commercial challenge. But Hudsucker Proxy is more than that–it is a meticulously observed descendant of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe.

This is almost perversely maddening. Meet John Doe is a peripheral thing–an anomaly. It grew out of screwball, in the same way that cancerous tumors might grow out of one’s neck. It is not by any measure a proper example of the genre–nor is it really anything else, either.

I mean, assuming the Coens really had an itch to remake Capra, they were kind of spoiled for choice: It Happened One Night practically invented screwball. But Meet John Doe has few fans. It is an unloved also-ran thing from the margins of a largely forgotten genre last heard of roughly 50 years before The Hudsucker Proxy started filming snow-swept model buildings.

THE_HUDSUCKER_PROXY_4

Of course… that’s where we started, isn’t it? What else have the Coen Brothers been doing all this time but playing formalistic games with their favorite movies, retooling Hollywood’s past into things that function in the present? Is there seriously a way of drawing a meaningful line in the sand that separates the OCD-like tics of Big Lebowski from the ritualized nuttiness of Hudsucker Proxy? They feel so similar to me, so genuinely alike, and yet one has legions of fans who still host viewing parties years later (and which still warrants SNL jokes) and the other is Warner Archive’s first stab at a Blu-Ray. Go figure.

62 Responses Extruded plastic dingus, for kids
Posted By table9mutant : April 27, 2013 7:53 am

Great write-up. I want to watch The Hudsucker Proxy now – never seen it.

Posted By table9mutant : April 27, 2013 7:53 am

Great write-up. I want to watch The Hudsucker Proxy now – never seen it.

Posted By Emgee : April 27, 2013 7:53 am

“cold, off-putting, and robotically mannered. But, isn’t every Coen Brothers movie like that?”

True; that’s why i gave up on them years ago. The Coens simply don’t care about their characters, but expect us to. I don’t.

Posted By Emgee : April 27, 2013 7:53 am

“cold, off-putting, and robotically mannered. But, isn’t every Coen Brothers movie like that?”

True; that’s why i gave up on them years ago. The Coens simply don’t care about their characters, but expect us to. I don’t.

Posted By Liam Casey : April 27, 2013 7:55 am

You can add me to the list of people who liked this movie. But my reason is very simple and can be stated in two words: Paul Newman.

Posted By Liam Casey : April 27, 2013 7:55 am

You can add me to the list of people who liked this movie. But my reason is very simple and can be stated in two words: Paul Newman.

Posted By Benboom : April 27, 2013 10:11 am

I love Hudsucker, and I think both Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh are just great – especially Leigh’s channeling of Katharine Hepburn. I don’t understand it being called “cold” – this makes no sense to me. I’ve watched this one several times and I think it just gets better and better. This film has some of the best dialog in any Coen brothers movie and I believe that’s saying something. I like the Bruce Campbell cameo, too.

Posted By Benboom : April 27, 2013 10:11 am

I love Hudsucker, and I think both Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh are just great – especially Leigh’s channeling of Katharine Hepburn. I don’t understand it being called “cold” – this makes no sense to me. I’ve watched this one several times and I think it just gets better and better. This film has some of the best dialog in any Coen brothers movie and I believe that’s saying something. I like the Bruce Campbell cameo, too.

Posted By Jandy : April 27, 2013 11:31 am

I very much like Hudsucker, but I’m also a big fan of screwball comedy, so I really enjoyed the through line your article makes between them. One thing that did throw me off, and it’s a bit of a nitpick, is that this movie that perfectly pastiches 1930s comedy is set in the 1950s.

Posted By Jandy : April 27, 2013 11:31 am

I very much like Hudsucker, but I’m also a big fan of screwball comedy, so I really enjoyed the through line your article makes between them. One thing that did throw me off, and it’s a bit of a nitpick, is that this movie that perfectly pastiches 1930s comedy is set in the 1950s.

Posted By swac44 : April 27, 2013 1:05 pm

I had mixed feelings about this film at the time, but I like it better now. Especially compared to a couple of real Coen duds, The Ladykillers and that one where George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones are getting divorced. Can’t even be bothered to look up the title, that’s how little it mattered.

Posted By swac44 : April 27, 2013 1:05 pm

I had mixed feelings about this film at the time, but I like it better now. Especially compared to a couple of real Coen duds, The Ladykillers and that one where George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones are getting divorced. Can’t even be bothered to look up the title, that’s how little it mattered.

Posted By Doug : April 27, 2013 1:07 pm

I liked the movie, but here are a few things which struck me as odd:
Tim Robbins. Never been a fan. I expected more out of the Coens.
Jennifer Jason Leigh was excellent, but if the repartee between her and Robbins were represented by musical instruments, she would be a pitch perfect flute and he would be a off-time bass drum. She deserved a better co-star.
A hula hoop? Really? The fortunes of Hudsucker Industries rise because of the hula hoop? I get that the Coens wanted to include innocuous Americana, but the idea of the hula hoop just struck me as a poor choice.
The 1950′s setting. As David noted, the screwball comedy reigned in the 30′s and 40′s. The Coens setting their attempt at screwball in a later era was off putting.
If they had set their story in modern times, still tweaking the nose of the corporate world, having chosen a better lead for Leigh to play against…they could have charmed us with another winner. They hit the early 20th century perfectly with “O Brother, where Art Thou?”, went current with “Burn after Reading” which they hit out of the park…Hudsucker was a limp single to the infield. If not for Newman and Leigh I probably wouldn’t have liked it at all.

Posted By Doug : April 27, 2013 1:07 pm

I liked the movie, but here are a few things which struck me as odd:
Tim Robbins. Never been a fan. I expected more out of the Coens.
Jennifer Jason Leigh was excellent, but if the repartee between her and Robbins were represented by musical instruments, she would be a pitch perfect flute and he would be a off-time bass drum. She deserved a better co-star.
A hula hoop? Really? The fortunes of Hudsucker Industries rise because of the hula hoop? I get that the Coens wanted to include innocuous Americana, but the idea of the hula hoop just struck me as a poor choice.
The 1950′s setting. As David noted, the screwball comedy reigned in the 30′s and 40′s. The Coens setting their attempt at screwball in a later era was off putting.
If they had set their story in modern times, still tweaking the nose of the corporate world, having chosen a better lead for Leigh to play against…they could have charmed us with another winner. They hit the early 20th century perfectly with “O Brother, where Art Thou?”, went current with “Burn after Reading” which they hit out of the park…Hudsucker was a limp single to the infield. If not for Newman and Leigh I probably wouldn’t have liked it at all.

Posted By JackFavell : April 27, 2013 1:36 pm

Ah, you and I hit again, Mr. Kalat, and on TWO movies, not just one – The Hudsucker Proxy AND Meet John Doe. I’ve always preferred Doe to the more popular It’s a Wonderful Life, I’m not sure why. It just speaks more personally to me. And I fell in love with Hudsucker when I first saw it.

It is the very first Coen Brothers movie I ever bought. I never thought of it as cold, but I can see the point. The main character is not the brightest bulb, and the female lead is an opportunist. But something about the ‘coldness’ of this particular film seems very fitting for the society we live in now, not quite so much the one from 1994. Since then we’ve seen the rise of technology, more powerful women in the work force and some business scandals that would shock our counterparts back in the year this film came out.

I DO see a warm heart in the film too. It’s simply not in the expected place, in front of the camera. The warmth of the movie is in the narrative, not in the characters. It’s in the eye of the camera and the narration of the clock man.

Hudsucker is not as cold or as vacuous (as I think the critics might have put it) a parody as it appears to be on first glance. The way its all-encompassing, godlike narration plants the seeds of America’s future, and takes us from screwball all the way up to our own modern commercial world via the ‘extruded plastic dingus’ – you know, for kids! – well it’s brilliant. We can see our own society’s beginnings in the description of Norville’s invention and his rise…. I think that’s where the warmth is. It’s in the idea that a man can dream of an elusive circle of continued commercial success with one invention and actually attain it. It happened – IN REAL LIFE. Sort of. At least we have the actual dingus before us here in the real world. The warmth is in the twinkle in the Coen brothers’ eye. Their love of screwball, and of mythmaking, and of fakery, a la Orson Welles shows in every frame. They intersect the real with the completely fake, then inject it back into our world just for fun! It makes our world surreal. And maybe that was what flattened the movie on the sidewalk on it’s initial run. I’d stake my Pulitzer on it!

Anyway, I know every frame of the movie by heart, and will often show people just the short clip at the beginning of your article (it’s such a perfect example of great film-making) to whet their interest. It’s a beautiful film.

Is it that the lampooning of big business hits us where it hurts the most? Maybe the movie should have been released a couple of years ago, instead of in 1994, because it’s even more appropriate for these crazy times. Perhaps that’s the problem… the Coen’s were actually prescient, way ahead of their time, rather than simply paying homage to an earlier messed up period in our history like the Depression. It hits all the buttons for me… even more so now. But maybe the pushing of those buttons hurts too much. Or, far more likely, it’s that screwball is as dead and gone as Waring Hudsucker on that sidewalk. If a public has no memory of something, then what good is an homage or a parody?

“Now if ya’ll ain’t from the city, we have something here called “the rat race.” Got a way of chewing folks up so that they don’t want no celebrating, don’t want no cheerin’ up, and don’t care nothing ’bout no New Year’s. Out of hope. Out of rope. Out of time. This here is Norville Barnes. That office he’s steppin’ out of is the office of the president of Hudsucker Industries. It’s his office. How’d he get so high? And why is he feelin’ so low? Is he really gonna do it? Is Norville really gonna jelly up the sidewalk? Well, the future, that’s something you can’t never tell about. But the past, that’s another story.”

Posted By JackFavell : April 27, 2013 1:36 pm

Ah, you and I hit again, Mr. Kalat, and on TWO movies, not just one – The Hudsucker Proxy AND Meet John Doe. I’ve always preferred Doe to the more popular It’s a Wonderful Life, I’m not sure why. It just speaks more personally to me. And I fell in love with Hudsucker when I first saw it.

It is the very first Coen Brothers movie I ever bought. I never thought of it as cold, but I can see the point. The main character is not the brightest bulb, and the female lead is an opportunist. But something about the ‘coldness’ of this particular film seems very fitting for the society we live in now, not quite so much the one from 1994. Since then we’ve seen the rise of technology, more powerful women in the work force and some business scandals that would shock our counterparts back in the year this film came out.

I DO see a warm heart in the film too. It’s simply not in the expected place, in front of the camera. The warmth of the movie is in the narrative, not in the characters. It’s in the eye of the camera and the narration of the clock man.

Hudsucker is not as cold or as vacuous (as I think the critics might have put it) a parody as it appears to be on first glance. The way its all-encompassing, godlike narration plants the seeds of America’s future, and takes us from screwball all the way up to our own modern commercial world via the ‘extruded plastic dingus’ – you know, for kids! – well it’s brilliant. We can see our own society’s beginnings in the description of Norville’s invention and his rise…. I think that’s where the warmth is. It’s in the idea that a man can dream of an elusive circle of continued commercial success with one invention and actually attain it. It happened – IN REAL LIFE. Sort of. At least we have the actual dingus before us here in the real world. The warmth is in the twinkle in the Coen brothers’ eye. Their love of screwball, and of mythmaking, and of fakery, a la Orson Welles shows in every frame. They intersect the real with the completely fake, then inject it back into our world just for fun! It makes our world surreal. And maybe that was what flattened the movie on the sidewalk on it’s initial run. I’d stake my Pulitzer on it!

Anyway, I know every frame of the movie by heart, and will often show people just the short clip at the beginning of your article (it’s such a perfect example of great film-making) to whet their interest. It’s a beautiful film.

Is it that the lampooning of big business hits us where it hurts the most? Maybe the movie should have been released a couple of years ago, instead of in 1994, because it’s even more appropriate for these crazy times. Perhaps that’s the problem… the Coen’s were actually prescient, way ahead of their time, rather than simply paying homage to an earlier messed up period in our history like the Depression. It hits all the buttons for me… even more so now. But maybe the pushing of those buttons hurts too much. Or, far more likely, it’s that screwball is as dead and gone as Waring Hudsucker on that sidewalk. If a public has no memory of something, then what good is an homage or a parody?

“Now if ya’ll ain’t from the city, we have something here called “the rat race.” Got a way of chewing folks up so that they don’t want no celebrating, don’t want no cheerin’ up, and don’t care nothing ’bout no New Year’s. Out of hope. Out of rope. Out of time. This here is Norville Barnes. That office he’s steppin’ out of is the office of the president of Hudsucker Industries. It’s his office. How’d he get so high? And why is he feelin’ so low? Is he really gonna do it? Is Norville really gonna jelly up the sidewalk? Well, the future, that’s something you can’t never tell about. But the past, that’s another story.”

Posted By DevlinCarnate : April 27, 2013 4:37 pm

i really wanted to like this…especially for Paul Newman,but i quite literally fell asleep while watching this in a theater with a bunch of my friends…when they woke me up,they all said “ehh…it was ok”…there were only three other movies i literally fell asleep during…I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (ironically)..Pulp Fiction,and Zodiac….when i went back and watched them on DVD,the only one that i still don’t care for is PF,the other two,especially I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead i still watch regularly…i generally like the Coen films,but there have been missteps,but hey, no one has ever batted 1000 in baseball…i’ll give Hudsucker another shot

Posted By DevlinCarnate : April 27, 2013 4:37 pm

i really wanted to like this…especially for Paul Newman,but i quite literally fell asleep while watching this in a theater with a bunch of my friends…when they woke me up,they all said “ehh…it was ok”…there were only three other movies i literally fell asleep during…I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (ironically)..Pulp Fiction,and Zodiac….when i went back and watched them on DVD,the only one that i still don’t care for is PF,the other two,especially I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead i still watch regularly…i generally like the Coen films,but there have been missteps,but hey, no one has ever batted 1000 in baseball…i’ll give Hudsucker another shot

Posted By Tom S : April 27, 2013 4:56 pm

I have absolutely never understood the criticism that the Coens have no love for their characters, it seems wildly inaccurate- who could write a Marge Gunderson or a Ulysses Everett McGill without falling in love with them? How could a team that made Walter Sobchak a charming figure, rather than an unbearable one, be working from a place of contempt?

I wonder if it comes from the fact that the Coens are willing to have their characters exist in a more indifferent universe than most that leads people to believe that they are themselves indifferent- there’s no benevolent writer God looking out for Llewellyn Moss, surely- but even that doesn’t apply to Hudsucker, which has explicit allusions to precisely that happening. Perhaps it’s just that the Coens make characters whom some _viewers_ find unlovable, inasmuch as they’re mannered and unsoftened. To me, that represents the Coens falling in love with them all the more.

I absolutely love Hudsucker, though I’m not sure I’m entirely sold on Robbins’ performance- it’s not that he’s unlikable, but that he seems dopey in the Joel McCrae mode, and it feels like the movie needs a more charismatic central figure. But everything around it, the look and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman and the frisbee and hula hoop things, those all work marvelously for me- I suspect that it’s just the tone that puts people off, the sense that it’s a joke about a joke about a joke rather than the joke itself at times. Who cares though, it’s great.

Posted By Tom S : April 27, 2013 4:56 pm

I have absolutely never understood the criticism that the Coens have no love for their characters, it seems wildly inaccurate- who could write a Marge Gunderson or a Ulysses Everett McGill without falling in love with them? How could a team that made Walter Sobchak a charming figure, rather than an unbearable one, be working from a place of contempt?

I wonder if it comes from the fact that the Coens are willing to have their characters exist in a more indifferent universe than most that leads people to believe that they are themselves indifferent- there’s no benevolent writer God looking out for Llewellyn Moss, surely- but even that doesn’t apply to Hudsucker, which has explicit allusions to precisely that happening. Perhaps it’s just that the Coens make characters whom some _viewers_ find unlovable, inasmuch as they’re mannered and unsoftened. To me, that represents the Coens falling in love with them all the more.

I absolutely love Hudsucker, though I’m not sure I’m entirely sold on Robbins’ performance- it’s not that he’s unlikable, but that he seems dopey in the Joel McCrae mode, and it feels like the movie needs a more charismatic central figure. But everything around it, the look and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman and the frisbee and hula hoop things, those all work marvelously for me- I suspect that it’s just the tone that puts people off, the sense that it’s a joke about a joke about a joke rather than the joke itself at times. Who cares though, it’s great.

Posted By AL : April 27, 2013 5:03 pm

MEET JOHN DOE is Capra’s best film–and it’s even more relevant today…Steal From The Poor And Give To The Rich; it’s been that way in every society since the Beginning… The LOVE of money is the root of all Evil.

Posted By AL : April 27, 2013 5:03 pm

MEET JOHN DOE is Capra’s best film–and it’s even more relevant today…Steal From The Poor And Give To The Rich; it’s been that way in every society since the Beginning… The LOVE of money is the root of all Evil.

Posted By JackFavell : April 27, 2013 5:19 pm

Tom S. –

Just to play devil’s advocate, doesn’t the premise of the movie work better with Norville being an out and out dope? Not just a Jimmy Stewart or Joel McCrea dope, but a real bona fide idiot? That old adage that any idiot can get ahead in our country is played for maximum discomfort and comedy in the film, and I think is perhaps pointed. Just a thought.

Posted By JackFavell : April 27, 2013 5:19 pm

Tom S. –

Just to play devil’s advocate, doesn’t the premise of the movie work better with Norville being an out and out dope? Not just a Jimmy Stewart or Joel McCrea dope, but a real bona fide idiot? That old adage that any idiot can get ahead in our country is played for maximum discomfort and comedy in the film, and I think is perhaps pointed. Just a thought.

Posted By Tom S : April 27, 2013 7:50 pm

Yeah, I don’t disagree- I think my issue is that I don’t find Robbins to be a figure I actually want to keep my eyes on, more than anything about the writing of his character. He reminds me of McCrae in that they both seem like everyone around them is more compelling than they are.

Posted By Tom S : April 27, 2013 7:50 pm

Yeah, I don’t disagree- I think my issue is that I don’t find Robbins to be a figure I actually want to keep my eyes on, more than anything about the writing of his character. He reminds me of McCrae in that they both seem like everyone around them is more compelling than they are.

Posted By Doug : April 28, 2013 1:36 am

Tom S. said:
“both seem like everyone around them is more compelling than they are.” Sort of the opposite of someone who energizes a room, ups the energy when they enter? I’m with you on Robbins. I have liked him in a few roles, but he’s mostly bland. “Arlington Road” might be his best performance.

Posted By Doug : April 28, 2013 1:36 am

Tom S. said:
“both seem like everyone around them is more compelling than they are.” Sort of the opposite of someone who energizes a room, ups the energy when they enter? I’m with you on Robbins. I have liked him in a few roles, but he’s mostly bland. “Arlington Road” might be his best performance.

Posted By Jonathan : April 28, 2013 2:40 pm

“But Meet John Doe has few fans.”

Wow. I always did like like this. Yeah, the ending painted into a corner but its fun getting there.

As for HUDSUCKER, it has much to offer. Paul Newman, Charles Durning, Bruce Campbell, and Sam Raimi’s 2nd unit footage (when the kid finds the hula hoop) are reasons why we go to the movies.

Tim Robbins, not so much. I still can’t cotton to him as an actor. He never came of as a performer, a box of surprises. It is just to hard to enjoy a movie when the lead seems like a barrier. He was worthwhile in MYSTIC RIVER and Robert Altman movies. I even got to meet with him. He seemed like good person and grateful but he is not what movies are made for.

If Bruce had been the lead, that would have been something.

Posted By Jonathan : April 28, 2013 2:40 pm

“But Meet John Doe has few fans.”

Wow. I always did like like this. Yeah, the ending painted into a corner but its fun getting there.

As for HUDSUCKER, it has much to offer. Paul Newman, Charles Durning, Bruce Campbell, and Sam Raimi’s 2nd unit footage (when the kid finds the hula hoop) are reasons why we go to the movies.

Tim Robbins, not so much. I still can’t cotton to him as an actor. He never came of as a performer, a box of surprises. It is just to hard to enjoy a movie when the lead seems like a barrier. He was worthwhile in MYSTIC RIVER and Robert Altman movies. I even got to meet with him. He seemed like good person and grateful but he is not what movies are made for.

If Bruce had been the lead, that would have been something.

Posted By idlemendacity : April 28, 2013 6:13 pm

I loved Hudsucker Proxy when it first came out. It had a distinctive look, snappy dialogue, great cast, excellent direction. But now, years later, it doesn’t stand up as well. I think it has to do with the two leads. The film WANTS to a homage to screwball comedies and Capra films but has instead Jennifer Jason Leigh (an actress I admire in other things) doing a Katherine Hepburn impersonation if Hepburn had played Babe Bennett (from Mr. Deeds) instead of doing something new. And, as others have said, Robbins’ “man-child” lead, Norville Barnes, who is written as naive and innocent but not very bright. Compare that to Longfellow Deeds or Jefferson Smith or even John Doe who also may have been out-of-touch and innocent but when they had to gave as good as they got to their adversaries. Instead we have an ending where the villian is largely defeated by a third character played by Bill Cobbs and an a out of nowhere deus ex machina. Robbins’ Norville is largely a bystander in his own movie and Robbins plays him as childlike in the end as he did in the beginning. It’s very underwhelming and unsatisfying. I agree with Jonathan, it would have been more interesting to see Bruce Campbell taking his trademark tongue-in-cheek, in the know approach to the same part.

Posted By idlemendacity : April 28, 2013 6:13 pm

I loved Hudsucker Proxy when it first came out. It had a distinctive look, snappy dialogue, great cast, excellent direction. But now, years later, it doesn’t stand up as well. I think it has to do with the two leads. The film WANTS to a homage to screwball comedies and Capra films but has instead Jennifer Jason Leigh (an actress I admire in other things) doing a Katherine Hepburn impersonation if Hepburn had played Babe Bennett (from Mr. Deeds) instead of doing something new. And, as others have said, Robbins’ “man-child” lead, Norville Barnes, who is written as naive and innocent but not very bright. Compare that to Longfellow Deeds or Jefferson Smith or even John Doe who also may have been out-of-touch and innocent but when they had to gave as good as they got to their adversaries. Instead we have an ending where the villian is largely defeated by a third character played by Bill Cobbs and an a out of nowhere deus ex machina. Robbins’ Norville is largely a bystander in his own movie and Robbins plays him as childlike in the end as he did in the beginning. It’s very underwhelming and unsatisfying. I agree with Jonathan, it would have been more interesting to see Bruce Campbell taking his trademark tongue-in-cheek, in the know approach to the same part.

Posted By robbushblog : April 29, 2013 10:32 am

I love The Hudsucker Proxy. I like everything about it. I think Tim Robbins is more effective in it because he’s a dope and remains a dope. I was having a discussion with some friends the other day about Mad Men. One friend said the show is frustrating because the characters never change. Well, in some ways that’s part of the point. They do change, but some of them don’t change enough to keep up with the changing times. Tim Robbins did not change enough and that was his downfall. He remained a big dope throughout the whole thing.

I also really like Meet John Doe and Theodora Goes Wild. I didn’t find Theodora Goes Wild boring at all.

Posted By robbushblog : April 29, 2013 10:32 am

I love The Hudsucker Proxy. I like everything about it. I think Tim Robbins is more effective in it because he’s a dope and remains a dope. I was having a discussion with some friends the other day about Mad Men. One friend said the show is frustrating because the characters never change. Well, in some ways that’s part of the point. They do change, but some of them don’t change enough to keep up with the changing times. Tim Robbins did not change enough and that was his downfall. He remained a big dope throughout the whole thing.

I also really like Meet John Doe and Theodora Goes Wild. I didn’t find Theodora Goes Wild boring at all.

Posted By B Piper : April 29, 2013 12:33 pm

I sort of gave up on the Coens when they started remaking older, better movies. Before that I found that I pretty consistently loved every other movie they did, but even the ones I didn’t like had at least one brilliant scene. In HUDSUCKER it’s the discovery of the hula hoop. Wonderful.

Posted By B Piper : April 29, 2013 12:33 pm

I sort of gave up on the Coens when they started remaking older, better movies. Before that I found that I pretty consistently loved every other movie they did, but even the ones I didn’t like had at least one brilliant scene. In HUDSUCKER it’s the discovery of the hula hoop. Wonderful.

Posted By Will Pfeifer : April 29, 2013 12:33 pm

Not only is “The Hudsucker Proxy” my favorite Coen movie, but if you catch me on the right day at the right time, it’s my favorite movie period. I caught it in the theater during the very last day of its very short run, and sat spellbound for the entire thing. I can still remember how spectacular the shots in Paul Newman’s office looked, with the shadows of the clock hands stretching on to infinity. (That’s an effect you just can’t get at home, no matter how big your screen is.) I honestly think its just about pitch-perfect and not nearly as cold as its reputation. Plus, really — how great is Paul Newman as Mussberger? “Sure, sure…”

Posted By Will Pfeifer : April 29, 2013 12:33 pm

Not only is “The Hudsucker Proxy” my favorite Coen movie, but if you catch me on the right day at the right time, it’s my favorite movie period. I caught it in the theater during the very last day of its very short run, and sat spellbound for the entire thing. I can still remember how spectacular the shots in Paul Newman’s office looked, with the shadows of the clock hands stretching on to infinity. (That’s an effect you just can’t get at home, no matter how big your screen is.) I honestly think its just about pitch-perfect and not nearly as cold as its reputation. Plus, really — how great is Paul Newman as Mussberger? “Sure, sure…”

Posted By Tom S : April 29, 2013 2:07 pm

They’ve only done two remakes, one of which is their most recent movie- did you just give up on them immediately when the Ladykillers came out? It’s not like they just endlessly started cranking out remakes of old comedies.

Also, while The Ladykillers does pale in comparison to the original (I actually still like it, but it feels like a cover version of the original more than a true remake) their True Grit is better than the John Wayne one.

Posted By Tom S : April 29, 2013 2:07 pm

They’ve only done two remakes, one of which is their most recent movie- did you just give up on them immediately when the Ladykillers came out? It’s not like they just endlessly started cranking out remakes of old comedies.

Also, while The Ladykillers does pale in comparison to the original (I actually still like it, but it feels like a cover version of the original more than a true remake) their True Grit is better than the John Wayne one.

Posted By CitizenKing : April 29, 2013 2:43 pm

I don’t quite buy your theory as to why The Hudsucker Proxy gets no love, but I haven’t a better one to offer. I’m not thrilled with Robbins either, but it is a nearly impossible job. He has to play a dimwit (OK, he got that part) who has the charm of Joel McCrea and gets us to root for him like Jimmy Stewart. A Herculean task. But I still call that a small flaw in a fantastic movie. The dialog, always the strength of a screwball, snaps like a whip. And I don’t think of Leigh as Hepburn, but rather a very good Rosalind Russell.

And the Coens’ imagination is as wild here as it was in Raising Arizona. The two movies felt like they sprang from the same well if you ask me. So I am also left to marvel at how little regard people have for Hudsucker.

Also, I don’t wish to counter some of the statements above that seem outrageous to me. But I will throwout an outrageous statement of my own. I think The Hudsucker Proxy is better than The Big Lebowski.

Posted By CitizenKing : April 29, 2013 2:43 pm

I don’t quite buy your theory as to why The Hudsucker Proxy gets no love, but I haven’t a better one to offer. I’m not thrilled with Robbins either, but it is a nearly impossible job. He has to play a dimwit (OK, he got that part) who has the charm of Joel McCrea and gets us to root for him like Jimmy Stewart. A Herculean task. But I still call that a small flaw in a fantastic movie. The dialog, always the strength of a screwball, snaps like a whip. And I don’t think of Leigh as Hepburn, but rather a very good Rosalind Russell.

And the Coens’ imagination is as wild here as it was in Raising Arizona. The two movies felt like they sprang from the same well if you ask me. So I am also left to marvel at how little regard people have for Hudsucker.

Also, I don’t wish to counter some of the statements above that seem outrageous to me. But I will throwout an outrageous statement of my own. I think The Hudsucker Proxy is better than The Big Lebowski.

Posted By Will Pfeifer : April 29, 2013 3:43 pm

CitizenKing — Count me as one who agrees with your outrageous statement. And remember, H.I. McDonough in “Raising Arizona” worked for none other than Hudsucker Industries.

Posted By Will Pfeifer : April 29, 2013 3:43 pm

CitizenKing — Count me as one who agrees with your outrageous statement. And remember, H.I. McDonough in “Raising Arizona” worked for none other than Hudsucker Industries.

Posted By robbushblog : April 29, 2013 9:03 pm

Tom- I cannot disagree with you more about True Grit. I did like the Coen Brothers version, but John Wayne, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, the shootout at the end…The original wins.

The Ladykillers remake really paled in comparison to the original. It wasn’t terrible. I saw the remake first and just felt it was okay. I loved the music though.

Posted By robbushblog : April 29, 2013 9:03 pm

Tom- I cannot disagree with you more about True Grit. I did like the Coen Brothers version, but John Wayne, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, the shootout at the end…The original wins.

The Ladykillers remake really paled in comparison to the original. It wasn’t terrible. I saw the remake first and just felt it was okay. I loved the music though.

Posted By Doug : April 30, 2013 1:44 am

” I think The Hudsucker Proxy is better than The Big Lebowski.”
Obvious question: was Lebowski better than “Raising Arizona”? Because that was a pretty good movie, too.

Posted By Doug : April 30, 2013 1:44 am

” I think The Hudsucker Proxy is better than The Big Lebowski.”
Obvious question: was Lebowski better than “Raising Arizona”? Because that was a pretty good movie, too.

Posted By CitizenKing : April 30, 2013 8:37 am

I love Raising Arizona, perhaps beyond reason. It was the first time I had ever heard of the Coens (Blood Simple came later for me), and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. From the yodel to the prison counseler to the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, outrageous quotable comedy. “Oh Hi, you’re young and you got your health. What do you want with a job?”

So I would rank Raising Arizona first, then Oh Brother, Hudsucker, Lebowski among Coen comedies.

Posted By CitizenKing : April 30, 2013 8:37 am

I love Raising Arizona, perhaps beyond reason. It was the first time I had ever heard of the Coens (Blood Simple came later for me), and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. From the yodel to the prison counseler to the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, outrageous quotable comedy. “Oh Hi, you’re young and you got your health. What do you want with a job?”

So I would rank Raising Arizona first, then Oh Brother, Hudsucker, Lebowski among Coen comedies.

Posted By Cool Bev : May 1, 2013 9:28 am

Well, if your theory is that Hudsucker was unloved because of its links to the dicey screwball genre, let’s test that: what was the reaction to their other screwball, Irreconcible Differences?

I actually don’t know – haven’t paid enough attention to the reviews, but the fifth comment is from someone who hates it too much to remember the name, so QED.

I liked Hudsucker, but wasn’t bowled over. I found it a little dry. No surprise from the Coens. I liked Differences a lot more, maybe just of Clooney and Zeta-Jones.

Posted By Cool Bev : May 1, 2013 9:28 am

Well, if your theory is that Hudsucker was unloved because of its links to the dicey screwball genre, let’s test that: what was the reaction to their other screwball, Irreconcible Differences?

I actually don’t know – haven’t paid enough attention to the reviews, but the fifth comment is from someone who hates it too much to remember the name, so QED.

I liked Hudsucker, but wasn’t bowled over. I found it a little dry. No surprise from the Coens. I liked Differences a lot more, maybe just of Clooney and Zeta-Jones.

Posted By robbushblog : May 1, 2013 9:41 am

I think you mean Intolerable Cruelty. It was lacking. I can barely remember it and I saw it on opening night.

Posted By robbushblog : May 1, 2013 9:41 am

I think you mean Intolerable Cruelty. It was lacking. I can barely remember it and I saw it on opening night.

Posted By Doug : May 2, 2013 2:03 am

Just found out that “Crimewave” arrives on Blu Ray in two weeks, with a commentary by Bruce Campbell. Coen and Raimi fans…rejoice?

Posted By Doug : May 2, 2013 2:03 am

Just found out that “Crimewave” arrives on Blu Ray in two weeks, with a commentary by Bruce Campbell. Coen and Raimi fans…rejoice?

Posted By swac44 : May 2, 2013 6:37 am

I’ve hung on to my VHS copy of Crimewave for years, since it wasn’t available any other way, glad I can ditch it. Even if the Coens are on record as referring to it as “Slimewave”. Guess they weren’t particularly fond of that assignment.

Posted By swac44 : May 2, 2013 6:37 am

I’ve hung on to my VHS copy of Crimewave for years, since it wasn’t available any other way, glad I can ditch it. Even if the Coens are on record as referring to it as “Slimewave”. Guess they weren’t particularly fond of that assignment.

Posted By Chas Potts : May 2, 2013 2:57 pm

The Hudsucker Proxy is one of the most beautiful films ever made. For the first time, the Coen brothers had a big budget to play around with and you can see it in every frame. Joel and/or Ethan have a wonderful eye, and I’m dying to see this on Blu Ray.

Posted By Chas Potts : May 2, 2013 2:57 pm

The Hudsucker Proxy is one of the most beautiful films ever made. For the first time, the Coen brothers had a big budget to play around with and you can see it in every frame. Joel and/or Ethan have a wonderful eye, and I’m dying to see this on Blu Ray.

Posted By B Piper : May 4, 2013 8:49 pm

“They’ve only done two remakes, one of which is their most recent movie.” Tom S.

True, although I never said they made a career out of it, merely that it was the point where they started to lose me. And in my opinion what they succeeded in doing with TRUE GRIT was draining all the fun out of it and replacing it with dust. It was tedious.

Posted By B Piper : May 4, 2013 8:49 pm

“They’ve only done two remakes, one of which is their most recent movie.” Tom S.

True, although I never said they made a career out of it, merely that it was the point where they started to lose me. And in my opinion what they succeeded in doing with TRUE GRIT was draining all the fun out of it and replacing it with dust. It was tedious.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films About Gambling  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies