Tim Robbins is perfectly cast as Norville Barnes, the wide-eyed and bumbling innocent from Muncie, Indiana, who seeks success in the corporate world of New York and finds it, thanks to Sidney J Mussburger (Paul Newman).
Norville is, in fact, closer to the top than he realises as he finds a job in the mailroom at Hudsucker Industries just as the hurtling, screaming body of company president Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) hits the pavement outside Hudsucker’s Kafkaesque skyscraper.
Hudsucker’s suicide prompts the evil, scheming Mussberger to persuade the timid board of directors to find a patsy, a guileless sucker, to replace Hudsucker as the Chairman of the Board to devalue the stock so that when the late chairman’s controlling shares hit the market in 30 days, Mussburger’s cabal can snap it up on the cheap.
They choose Norville Barnes.
The plan works for a while as Norville kills time playing golf, doodling in his office and cleaning his nails. The company stock starts spiralling downwards (as Hudsucker once did), and the situation comes to the attention of Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter who suspects something is not quite right with Barnes and company.
So Archer sets out to uncover the scoop of the year as she decides to prove that the bumbling fool from Muncie is a corporate grifter who deserves to be uncovered.
Of course, Archer discovers that Norville Barnes is just a swell, regular guy who has plans to invent things (“you know, for kids”) like the hula hoop – an idea that initially distinguishes Norville to Mussberger as the ideal proxy for his corporate fraud scheme.
How was Mussberger to know that the minimal Zen idea of a circle drawn on a piece of paper would make millions?
The role of Moses (Bill Cobbs) – who looks after the clock of the skyscraper, which features in a prominent role – as the storyteller/commentator that details the changing fortunes of Barnes inside and outside the skyscraper and those of the two cab drivers in a diner scene picturing Archer’s bold plan to get into Norville’s life, stress how the Coen Brothers are so consummately in control of their material.
Joel and Ethan present The Hudsucker Proxy as a hugely stylish homage to the cockeyed world of the screwball comedy genre of the 1930s and 1940s, with a neck-breaking pace and razor-sharp wisecracking dialogue. It’s a perfect vehicle for the Coen Brothers.
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Sidney J Mussburger
Dr Hugo Bronfenbrenner
Mary Lou Rosato
Luigi the Tailor
Sears Braithwaite of Bullard
Barbara Ann Grimes
Anna Nicole Smith