Coen Brothers Fest #5: "The Hudsucker Proxy"

“The Hudsucker Proxy” was probably worst Coen film as far as box office returns. (I suppose I could do some research to be sure, but it is only important to know that it was a financial disappointment.) At this point in Coen history, the Coens were gaining excellent ground, success, and respect in independent film and this was their first stab at the big time. They had a $25 million budget and made back only $3 million or so, initially. What I don’t understand is why it did so poorly.

The film is plenty fun and I have always enjoyed it. It is a simple morality tale about not resting on one’s laurels and not letting success go to one’s head. It features a great performance from Paul Newman as the cigar-smoking Sidney Mussberger, a Hudsucker board member with aspirations of running the company. The Coen-character featured in this film is 50’s stereotypes: wise cab-drivers, Italian tailors, fast-talking reporters, swelling scores… The only Coen regular in this movie is Steve Buschemi as the beatnik bar bartender (who does not die in this film). However we are introduced to a new Coen staple: Charles Durning playing Waring Hudsucker.

I noticed one bit of Kevin Bacon in this movie. Sam Raimi appeared in a cameo in “Miller’s Crossing” and co-wrote the screenplay for “The Hudsucker Proxy” with the Coens. He later went on to direct “Darkman” in 1990 which starred Frances McDormand. Frances McDormand appeared in several Coen films and is married to director Joel Coen. Joel Coen directed and co-wrote “Miller’s Crossing” which featured a cameo by Sam Raimi… Not profound, but there you go.

One thing I noticed on this viewing is that all of the “inventions” in the film are circular in design, underscoring the full-circle journal that Tim Robbins’ character will complete by the end of the film. A bit more profound than the Bacon thing, but still not impressive.

So I have a theory on why this film was not “successful.” There is some sort of cosmic “thing” where a film starring Tim Robbins that has a title that causes you to think is doomed, no matter good the film is. Examples: “The Hudsucker Proxy” (“What’s a ‘proxy’?” many asked), “The Shawshank Redemption” (“Is that a place or a person…wait…what?” asked the masses) and “Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter)” (“Wasn’t that just called ‘Pret-a-Porter’ originally? Why’d they change the name? Is it a different film?” asked most; “Doesn’t that just mean the same thing?” asked the savvy). If you are making a film and it has Tim Robbins, keep the title simple.

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