I've made casual references to The Hudsucker Proxy in the past, in random places all over this site, and I've always assumed that most people knew what I was talking about. I mean, it's The Hudsucker Proxy -- everybody knows it and everybody loves it, except for Siskel and Ebert. You've all watched it a million times by now, right?
Apparently not. Enough people aren't familiar with it that it must be time for me to write about it. (The two exceptions are Clone High creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, bless them, who made my day by quoting Hudsucker several times on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs commentary track.) My first response when somebody doesn't get a Hudsucker reference is to say, "Just see the movie." There's one big problem with that, however....its only DVD release was way back in 1999, in a lousy snapper case, on a despised flipper disc, with no bonus features other than "Interactive Menus" and "Scene Access." To make things worse, Warner Bros. placed a big spoiler for the film on the front cover.
Sooo....if you get it yourself, you're going to know the big twist before you start to play it, meaning I might as well spoil the whole thing for you right here. If you can find a way to see the film without seeing its own cover, then do so right away....otherwise, read on.
(By the way...it's a flipper because one side is anamorphic widescreen and the other is fullscreen. Considering the date of release, we should be lucky we got a widescreen version at all.)
The movie opens with a shot of a snowy New York City landscape, circa 1958. "For a few more minutes, anyway," says the voice of a Magical Negro, who narrates this scene (and will appear in person later). It's one minute before 1959, and the camera slowly zooms through the asphalt jungle, progressing toward one particular building with a huge clock and "HUDSUCKER INDUSTRIES" carved into it. A light clicks on and a timid-looking man (Tim Robbins) steps out onto the top ledge. He's wearing a tattered work apron and he looks miserable.
"This here's Norville Barnes. And 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's he feelin' so low? ....'Ze really gonna do it? Is Norville Barnes gonna jelly up the sidewalk? Well, the future is hard to tell. But the past....that's a whooooole other story!" CUE DRAMATIC ORCHESTRA AND OPENING CREDITS.
One month previous, we see a bus arrive in New York from Muncie, Indiana (home of Garfield). A much happier Norville Barnes emerges, freshly graduated from Muncie U and ready to tackle the business world. Said business world is depicted as brutally mechanical and cold, starting with the automatic Employment Agency Board he has to stare at. He watches job after job shuffle into view and disappear. He doesn't qualify for a single one.
When I first watched this movie, my parents had rented it, and I reacted to this scene with total disbelief. That couldn't be the way capitalist society actually works, because if it did and everyone demanded experience from Day 1, nobody would ever be able to work at all. ....Turns out that is how it's done, and I still don't get it.
Norville takes a coffee break, his optimism seriously deflated. As fate would have it, his coffee cup makes a ring mark around the only job in NYC, despite his education, that he can get into: mail sorting in the basement at Hudsucker Industries.
Meanwhile, up in the 44th floor (not counting the mezzanine), a meeting of the board members is taking place at Hudsucker. The man standing at one end gleefully reports the company's successes and profits over the past year. The man slouching in his chair at the other end is none other than Waring Hudsucker, founder of the entire business. Despite his position and success, he seems rather weary and out-of-it, focusing not on the blathering old fogey, but the large picture window behind him........
Norville leaves before seeing the circled job, but the paper blows out of the diner, down the street and against his leg. This time, when he picks it up, he sees the posting and a little hope comes into his heart. Might as well try it....
As the man wraps up his presentation, Waring clears his throat. The other board members look at him. Waring stands up, puts his leg on his padded chair...and climbs onto the table. He stands up again, gets into position, and runs across the table, jumps right out the picture window and plunges 45 floors (counting the mezzanine) to his exit.
And HOLY CRAP THIS SCENE IS SCARY. The camera follows Mr. Hudsucker ALL the way down, in real time, with accurate terminal velocity. I'm not scared of heights, but the feeling of vertigo this shot produces is the strongest I've ever seen come from anything. The first time I saw it, as a kid, I freaked out so badly I had to leave the room. They pulled this off using a model, not computers. It's an incredible feat of photography and the footage was stolen by several TV shows in the following years.
The other board members stand around stunned for a few moments, until our lead slime, Sidney J. Mussburger, breaks the silence (and finishes the rest of Waring's cigar). Unaffected by what just happened, he casually lays out the problems Waring's vacancy are going to create for the rest of them. Since Mr. Hudsucker had no family, left no will, and owned three-quarters of the Hudsucker stock, his shares will be turned over to the public on January 1. The thought horrifies Sidney. "You mean to tell me...that any schmoe with a dirty T-shirt could walk in here and buy Hudsucker stock?"
The other board members are in agreement: they don't want to lose control of the company, nor have to share their profits with anyone else. So Sidney concocts a brilliant plan: in one month, they ruin the value of said stock so nobody buys it and they can snatch it up themselves cheaply. But how will they make a glowingly profitable conglomerate look like a risky investment within one month? Easily....they'll elect the worst man they can find in Waring's place. "A proxy....a pawn! Some jerk we can push around...."
"YOU PUNCH IN AT EIGHT-THIRTY EVERY MORNING, EXCEPT YOU PUNCH IN AT SEVEN-THIRTY FOLLOWING A BUSINESS HOLIDAY, PLUS IF IT'S A MONDAY THEN YOU PUNCH IN AT EIGHT O'CLOCK! INCOMING ARTICLES, GET A VOUCHER! OUTGOING ARTICLES, PROVIDE A VOUCHER! TOO MANY ARTICLES WITHOUT A VOUCHER, AND THEY DOCK YA!! LETTER SIZE, A GREEN VOUCHER! OVERSIZE, A YELLOW VOUCHER! PARTIAL SIZE, A MAROON VOUCHER! USE THE WRONG COLOR VOUCHER, AND THEY DOCK YA!! (whistle blast) ...ZERO SEVEN NINE ALPHA-SLASH-SIX, THAT IS YOUR EMPLOYEE NUMBER! IT WILL NOT BE REPEATED! WITHOUT YOUR EMPLOYEE NUMBER YOU CANNOT GET YOUR PAYCHECK! INTER-OFFICE MAILINGS CODE, THIRTY-SEVEN! INTRA-OFFICE MAILINGS CODE, THIRTY-SEVEN-DASH-THREE! OUTSIDE MAILINGS, THREE-DASH-THIRTY-SEVEN! CODE IT WRONG, AND THEY DOCK YA!! THIS HAS BEEN YOUR ORIENTATION, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU UNDERSTAND ONLY PARTIALLY? IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FULLY ORIENTED YOU MUST FILE A COMPLAINT WITH PERSONNEL! FILE A FAULTY COMPLAINT....AND THEY DOCK YA!!"
Norville is assigned next to an old man who has been there so long he's got the whole job down to a reflex, tossing envelopes into boxes from six feet away. "Next year they move me up to parcels...if I'm lucky."
"Well, I've got big ideas, so I won't be here for long," says Norville confidently. "Let me show you something I've been working on." He digs a folded piece of paper out of his shoe. "This sweet baby is going to put Hudsucker right on top!"
To really sell it, he adds: "You know, for
He stuffs the paper back into his loafer and says, "So you see, I won't be down here for long."
The loudspeaker cracks on. "ATTENTION HUDSUCKER EMPLOYEES. ATTENTION HUDSUCKER EMPLOYEES. WE REGRETFULLY ANNOUNCE THAT AT THIRTY SECONDS AFTER THE HOUR OF NOON, HUDSUCKER TIME, WARING HUDSUCKER, FOUNDER, PRESIDENT, AND CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF HUDSUCKER INDUSTRIES, MERGED WITH THE INFINITE. WE HAVE ASKED THAT ALL HUDSUCKER EMPLOYEES STOP AND OBSERVE A MOMENT OF SILENT CONTEMPLATION."
The mailroom workers remove their hats and hang their heads.
"THANK YOU. THIS MOMENT HAS BEEN DULY NOTED ON YOUR TIME CARDS AND WILL BE DEDUCTED FROM YOUR PAY. THAT IS ALL."
Suddenly, flashing lights go off, sirens blare, and the workers start scurrying in panic looking for any rock to hide under. "BLUE LETTER!! IT'S A BLUE LETTER!!" one screams aloud.
The boss enters the now-seemingly-empty
basement and rigidly stomps down the main hall, holding a Blue
Letter high in his arm. The only one not in hysterics is
Norville. "What's a blue letter?" he asks the old man.
"Top communication between the brass. Usually bad news! They hate getting blue letters upstairs. HATE 'em!" The old man whimpers and hides. Unfortunately Norville was the only one standing in the open.
"YOU! BARNES! THINK YOU CAN HANDLE A BLUE LETTER? THIS WAS SENT DOWN THIS MORNING FROM WARING HUDSUCKER HIMSELF, ADDRESSED TO SIDNEY J. MUSSBURGER! IT'S A BLUE LETTER! THAT MEANS YOU GOTTA DELIVER IT RIGHT INTO SIDNEY J. MUSSBURGER'S HAND! NO SECRETARIES! NO RECEPTIONISTS! NO COLLEAGUES! NO EXCUSES! MUSSBURGER!"
Norville's off on his biggest adventure yet. He
boards the corporate elevator and meets "Buzz," the
annoying snappy elevator boy. "Hey howya do buddy, I'm Buzz,
I got the fuzz, I make the elevator do what she does." He
continually yaps as he boards people into his box. "Mister
Kline, number nine! Mrs. L, personnel! Mr. Levin, 37."
"Thirty-six," Levin corrects him.
"WALK," replies Buzz.
The moment Buzz spots the Blue Letter in Norville's hand, however, he immediately shrieks, shuts his mouth and blasts everyone to the top floor.
"Good luck, buddy, yer gonna need it! HAHAHAHAHA!" Buzz jeers as the door shuts.
Norville turns to the right. There's an ominous-looking janitor removing Waring's name from the President's office door with a scraper. He slowly turns to Norville and points his thumb the other way.
Norville enters Sidney's gigantic office. Sidney is multitasking to an inhuman degree, and Norville can barely get a word in. He's on the phone looking for awful candidates to anoint President, and keeps ignoring his secretary's requests to attend an appointment with some important client. "Just give him another magazine," Sidney demands.
Finally, Sidney slams down his phone and looks up at Norville. "This better be good. I'm in a bad mood."
"Well, sir, I've got something for you BUT FIRST, if I could have a moment of your valuable time, I'd like to show you this amazing idea that I've been working on for the last two or three years."
"Ta-da! ........You know......for kids!"
Sidney's jaw drops.
"You're from the basement, aren't
you.....and weren't blessed with much.......intelligence."
"No sir, I just graduated from college."
"But you did not excel in your studies."
"No, I made the Dean's List. At Muncie University."
"Oh you did," chuckles Sidney. "And your friends called you....stupid."
"No, in fact, I was voted most likely to succeed."
"YER FIRED, GET OUTTA MY CHAIR!"
It's not that simple, though. Sidney's cigar goes into his wastebasket and catches on fire. Through a clumsy series of events, Norville fails to put the fire out, gets his foot stuck in the burning wastebasket, then shoves it off and it smashes through the window. The breeze blows the contracts Sidney needed for his appointment out into the streets below. Sidney races to grab them back, but drops out himself -- just barely saved by Norville.
PAUSE HERE: The magazine Mussburger's secretary handed the angry man was Boys' Life.
"It's okay, sir, I've got you by your
"Pants......." Immediately Sidney's mind turns to thoughts of his tailor.
"I gif you a nice double stitch!"
"Why on Earth would I want a double stitch? Single stitch will be fine."
"But the double stitch, she is so strong! She last forever!"
"To pad your account....single stitch will do."
The pants start ripping. "Damn," Sidney utters.
Another flashback: Sidney's tailor is at his sewing machine, and says "You know what....that Mista Mussburger is such a nice man, I'm-a give him the double stitch anyway. THERE we go, that's some strong stitch, ya!"
When that flashback ends, the pants stop ripping. Sidney breathes a sigh of relief and puts a new cigar in his mouth, upside-down.
In the next scene, Norville has been chosen the new proxy---er, the new President! He has a lot of good hearty laughs with the board members, oblivious to the fact they're laughing at him. Sidney's laughing, too, when he sees the stock value plummeting. The tailor's laughing as he double-stitches Norville's pants! Norville's laughing and banging his hand on his huge desk as the camera pans away to reveal his huge office. He made it in record time!
The press is curious. The rumors surrounding this unknown who's been appointed head of Hudsucker is that he must be some kind of wunderkind to get there so quickly. "IDEA MAN," the Manhattan Argus is calling him. But one star reporter is less than impressed. I can't put this glorious character into words quite as well as I can show a video:
Yes, she talks like that FOR THE ENTIRE FILM. AND IT WORKS.
Amy Archer goes to the diner Norville dines at and hands him a terrible sob story to gain his sympathy and an entrance into his life. When that doesn't work, she outright faints on him. He has to carry her all the way up to his office, as she yaks away in her Hepburn accent obviously perfectly healthy. None of her overbearing tactics are getting him to open up any secrets to her, so she pulls out her trump card: she claims to be from Muncie.
Norville reacts to this by....grunting loudly, then stomping around in a strange manner. Amy gets the strangest look on her face and has no idea what to do. Then Norville starts singing, and she realizes he's belting out his college anthem, so she fakes it as best she can. Even the anthem is hilarious: "YOU'LL BE TATTERED, TORN AND CURTAINS...ONCE THE MUNCE IS DONE WITH YOU!"
The next day she shares this song with Bruce
Campbell, who works at the Argus in 1958 for some reason.
"Once the Munce? Holy Moley!"
Amy's certain she's found the scoop she was after. She goes to press with the headline "IMBECILE HEADS HUDSUCKER." That doesn't sit well with Norville.
Clueless to the charade, Norville has hired Amy as her assistant, and the next day unknowingly tells her off by dictating a response letter.
"Take this down. Dear Miss Archer...I call you 'miss' because you seem to have MISSED the boat completely on this one! How would you know I'm an imbecile when you don't have the guts to come in here and interview me man to man? No wait, change 'man to man' to 'face to face'. No, change 'face to face' to 'eye to eye' and 'guts' to 'common decency.' These wild speculations about my intelligence, these preposterous inventions, would be better suited to the pages of Amazing Tales magazine. If the editors of Manhattan Argus see fit to publish the rantings of a disordered mind, perhaps they will see fit to publish THIS letter. But I doubt it, I most seriously doubt it, as I also doubt you could find a home at Amazing Tales.....a periodical which I have enjoyed for many years. Sincerely, et cetera et cetera."
".....Will that be all, Mister Barnes?"
"Well, you know me, Amy; you don't think
I'm stupid, do you?"
"Let me show you something....would an imbecile....THINK OF THIS?
Norville: "I designed it myself!"
Amy walks off to type up Norville's letter. As
she heads for the door, Norville changes his mind. "Ahh,
forget the letter, I just needed to blow off some steam. She's
probably just a little confused."
Amy stops. "Confused."
"Yeah, she's probably one of those fast-talking career gals, thinks she's one of the boys. Probably IS one of the boys, if you know what I mean, she's probably VERY unattractive and bitter about it."
Amy turns around. "Oh, is THAT it...."
"Yeah, she probably dresses up in men's clothing, swaps drinks at the local watering hole, exchanges quips with some heel at the newsroom.....I bet she's REAL ugly, otherwise why wouldn't they print her picture next to her byline?"
"Well....maybe she puts her work above her personal appearance."
PAUSE HERE: Amy fluffs her hair when she says "work" and taps her notepad when she says "personal appearance." I'd bet that was in the script, not an honest goof.
"That's EXACTLY what she tells herself, but both you and I know, she's a dried-up bitter old maid! Say, how about some dinner and a show afterward?" Boy, does he get a slap.
"Norville Barnes, you don't know a thing about that girl! AND ONLY A NUMBSKULL THINKS HE KNOWS THINGS ABOUT THINGS HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT!!" She storms out dramatically.
The day ends, time cards are punched, and Norville goes off to wherever he lives. The only one left is Amy, who hid inside his broom closet. She thoroughly inspects Norville's office, but finds nothing other than his mailroom apron. Then she spots a door marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY".....
It turns out to be a bridge between Norville's and Sidney's offices, providing a tour of the gigantic gears of the clock between. Here, Amy meets Moses, the clock caretaker (and the voice we heard at the beginning of the film). Moses, being seemingly omniscient, recognizes her true identity right away.
"Say....you won't tell anyone about me,
"I don't tell anybody nothin'! Less'n of course they ask!"
"Well, tell me this.....do you know why the Hudsucker board elected Norville as president?"
"Well, that even surprised old Moses for a second! I didn't think the board was that smart!"
Amy almost stumbles off the railing. "That SMART?"
"But then I realized! The board takes Norville to be some kinda imbecile! Like some other folks I know!" He leans in toward Amy. "But why would they want to elect someone like that?" inquires Amy.
"CUZ THEY ALL PIGGLISH! They wanna devalue their own stock so no one else can have it! But Norville's got some tricks up his sleeve, he does! You know....for kids!"
The Argus editor won't print it. Calling the new president a moron was sweet and juicy, but accusing the entire Hudsucker board of chicanery without any evidence would bring down a lawsuit the size of a very large anvil. In fact, by shifting the blame from Norville to the board, he even suspects Amy is growing attached to him for some reason. Which she sort of is, but won't admit this early.
The next scene change brings us to a holiday
party for Hudsucker's biggest stockholders. Norville is
unconfortably trapped between two incredibly rotund and chatty
women, one of which is Sidney's wife. Fortunately, Sidney asks to
"borrow" Norville and he's allowed to escape.
"You've, uh, got a lovely wife there."
"So they tell me," Sidney says passively.
Sidney encourages Norville to speak to as many stockholders as possible, hoping he'll convince some of them to drop their holdings. Indeed, Norville botches several first impressions with epic klutziness. His worst faux pas is with a Swedish investor, who he attempts to speak high school Swedish to. Whatever he says causes his wife to scream and the man to sock his lights out.
Later on, Norville is nursing his bruise on the balcony and Amy joins him. This is the only portion of the film I don't like. You can go ahead and skip it without missing any major plot points, other than they kiss at the end. Norville and Amy have this really bizarre conversation about their having met each other in a previous life as a giraffe and a gazelle. It's probably meant to be strange, but it's not an entertaining kind of weird, it's just the kind that wastes your time.
The next day Norville holds an important board
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO WALK AWAY AND WATCH THE MOVIE ON YOUR OWN, PROVIDED YOU CAN AVOID SEEING ITS COVER.
I MEAN IT.
Yes, Norville has invented the Hula Hoop. This is the moment I fell in love with the genius of this film. This is incredibly clever. When you really think about it, how does something like this get invented anyway? It's nothing but a circle. How do you convince company bigwigs and store owners that a circle will be the next big fad? How can you manufacture a giant plastic circle and trust that anyone would know what to do with it?
The board members are bewildered at first. He gets a lot of questions like "What if you tire before it's done?" and "Will it break?" "It BETTER break, eventually," says another man -- and this is a statement I figure has been uttered at every single unveiling of every single corporate product that has ever been made since the turn of the 1900's. Some of the first light bulbs lasted a hundred years. They could make them that way again, but if they did, they'd all go bankrupt.
The montage that follows, depicting the entire Hudsucker assembly devoting all their time to creating millions of these things, is equally as clever -- and the booming score, one long uninterrupted piece stretching over five minutes, is one of my favorite tracks from any movie. If you only see one part of the film, it must be this part.
So, one lengthy montage later, Norville is a huge success and a media darling. He's even dating fashion model Za-Za (note the strategic absence of the "S" so they could say the same-sounding word and not have to pay Zsa Zsa at all). Amy doesn't like that too much. Neither is she impressed when Norville's overnight fame goes to his head just as quickly.
The next time she walks into his office, Norville is conducting a seven-piece orchestra with a relaxed wave of his cigar while two models massage him with battery-operated vibrating motors attached to their hands. All that is in there, plus a fat guy reading the Sunday Funnies for no reason.
"Did you hear the board is cutting eighty
percent of the workforce here at Hudsucker? That's people with
wives, children and families!"
"Oh yeah, we're getting rid of some of the dead weight," Norville slurs out with as few muscles as it takes to speak.
"You mean you KNOW ABOUT THIS...."
Success has changed him completely, and she'll no longer have any part of it. But not before she tells him off, and hard.
"I've been watching you, Norville Barnes, even though you've been trying to avoid me. And don't think I haven't noticed how you've changed. I used to think you were a swell guy! Well, to be honest I thought you were an imbecile. But then I figured out you really were a swell guy! A little slow maybe, but a swell guy! Well, maybe you're not so slo-ow! But maybe you're not so swell either!" (The line must have originally been "not so swell," but she stumbled on it and they liked the flubbed take better. Of course, I'm just speculating without anything like a commentary to rely on here. The "slo-ow" sounds great.)
"I used to love Norville Barnes. Yes, love him...........he was just a swell kid with hot ideas that was in over his head. *SLAP* BUT NOW YOUR HEAD'S TOO BIG TO BE IN OVER!! Consider this my RESIGNATION! Effective immediately!" she yells as she struts out and slams the doors open, pausing only to kick the fat guy in the shin. The camera blanks out to white as the doors reverberate.
And then.....there's this scene with Norville frolicking in a void with an exotic dancer, set to Carmen, suddenly. It's eventually explained as Norville's dream as he's lying there passed out in his own decadence, and at first I thought this was Amy, but the credits prove the dancer is a different person. I'm at a loss to explain this scene. What goes on here has no bearing to the plot whatsoever, nor is it mentioned again. I don't get it. But I have a theory.
Without this scene (and another one, later), it would be no stretch for the MPAA to tag The Hudsucker Proxy with a G rating. Since the movie lampoons the clean 1950's culture, (almost) nobody swears or anything -- they zing out fifties slang by the ton instead, some of it authentic, some of it made up. If they didn't put something risque in there, people might have thought it was a childrens' film. It was released with a PG. I think it's to its benefit they didn't go further. Good clean fun is hard to find, and it can be done.
Norville is eventually woken up, facedown in a puddle of his own drool, by Buzz, that elevator guy. "HE-YA BUDDY, HOWYA DOIN' THERE?"
"Listen, buddy, I know you're a busy man, but I don't plan on bein' an elevator boy forever! I got a big idea that'll shoot Hudsucker right to the top! TA-DA!"
"You know, for drinks!" Buzz introduces the bendable straw. "See, it's got these little ridges near the top that give it its whammy! I call it the BUZZSUCKER!"
"WAIT a minute....." Norville slowly
gets up from his desk, takes the Buzzsucker, unfolds the straw,
and whispers "This....is worthless...."
In a scene mirroring the moment when Sidney first met Norville, only mirrored and with 500% more drunkenness, Norville tells Buzz off. "How dare you come in here and waste my valuable time with such nonsense! *burp*"
"Well.....whaddya sayin' there, buddy?"
"I'm sayin'.....that you're fired!"
Buddy instantly collapses into a hysterical puddle on the carpet, wailing for Norville's mercy. He receives none. Norville's just asking for it, and he's about to get it.
The janitor has brought to Sidney's attention
the true identity of Norville's secretary.
"Thank you, Aloysius. This is.....useful...."
Itching for any chance to reverse his blunder and clobber Norville, Sidney arranges a new meeting with him....mano-a-mano.
Norville enters the meeting room fresh off the
"Say....that elevator boy came to me recently....he says he originally thought of the Hula Hoop, and you stole the idea from him. Is that true?"
"He said that? ...Gosh, I know I was harsh on him, but he--"
"Never mind that. He's nobody. Fire whoever you want. Your bigger problem....is who you hire." He plops on the table a folder stuffed with newspaper clippings that Amy has written, as well as a story on the Pulitzer she won. "That dame....was a spy. She was nothing but trouble. And her paper's going to town."
Norville stares at the evidence in disbelief.
"January 1st....we're holding another board meeting, and we plan to unanimously vote you out of your position. You had a short climb up, but it's a loooong way down. When you're dead, you stay dead. Just ask Waring Hudsucker."
Sidney's not done tightening the noose. He hires a puppet psychiatrist to diagnose Norville as insane and recommend he be imprisoned inside a sanitarium for the rest of his life. This should get rid of Norville for good AND depress the stock in record time.
Finally, it's New Year's Eve and Norville is reaping what he sowed. The Argus is about to hit the street with the Buzz-Norville scandal, and Amy is enraged. "It's not true! Buzz couldn't have invented it, he's an....imbecile...." Her protests fall on deaf ears, however, and she ends up quitting the paper as well "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!"
When Amy finds Norville he's drunk as a skunk,
at a juice bar, trying to convince a Steve Buscemi
Beatnik to serve him drinks. "I've hadda martini in evarry
bar over here, now gimme a martini!"
"It's like I keep tellin' ya, this is a JUICE AND COFFEE bar, man! Martinis are for squares!"
"Okay, then just gimme.....just gimme a martini."
Amy is the only one still on Norville's side, but he doesn't know that. He rejects her offer of help.
"You lied to me! How could YOU lie to me! You! A Muncie girl!" With that, he staggers out of the bar as Amy weeps into the countertop.
He runs right into Buzz, who's now dating
Za-Za. "HE-YA BUDDY, where ya been? Didja hear? Sidney gave
me my elevator job back! Is that a swell guy, or what? But guess
what? He said to me that you stole the idea for the Hula-Hoop
from me! What gives with that? That was a swell idea, buddy, I
didn't know I had it!"
"What are you waiting for, Clarence? Pop 'im one!" demands Za-Za.
And pop Buzz does. Norville collapses onto the asphalt as a crowd forms around him.
"LOOK, IT'S THAT BIG-SHOT FAKER!"
points out one crowd member.
"STAY BACK, HE'S MAD!" shrieks another.
As Norville gets back up and staggers away, they start chasing after him in rage. The men from the sanitarium follow, with a large human-sized butterfly net. He races through the streets, and though he does lose the crowd in an alley, he smacks right into a wall.
That wall turns out to be the Hudsucker building. He looks up at the top, as the snow falls silently around it. He only feels like doing one thing....ending it all.
Which brings us to the opening shot. Norville trudges back up to his office. No one is in the hallway except the janitor, who's scraped Norville's name off the door and is adding Sid's. Norville finds his original apron in the closet, and climbs out onto the ledge wearing it. 'Ze really gonna do it?
Maybe not. He looks down at the frightening view and has second thoughts, but as he inches his heels back toward the window, the lights go out inside his office and someone shuts the door. "NO, WAIT!" Norville shouts, and loses his balance. He topples over and is now hanging to the ledge by his fingertips.
It was Aloysius the janitor that shut the door, and as Norville hangs on for dear life, Aloysius just stares at him coldly, breathing a fog into the window pane. Here's another brilliant thing about the film: how layered it is and how you catch so many things you didn't notice before on repeat viewings. Sidney may get all the lines and attention, but the janitor is far worse, and arguably the true villain of this picture. There's nothing funny about him. He's just scary.
Norville can hold on no longer and his fingers slip! He plunges toward the ground on the same one-way path Waring took! The big clock starts chiming midnight! Sidney is laughing in victorious euphoria! Norville falls further and further, the ground rockets closer and closer, and then SUDDENLY--
--he just freezes in midair. The snow continues to fall, but he's just...stuck there. He has no idea what's happening.
"Strictly speaking, I'm never supposed to do this....but did you have a better idea?"
As Norville continues to hang around, he hears
someone singing "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain"
in the distance. It turns out to be the angel of Waring
Hudsucker, playing a ukelele and floating down to chat with him.
"Hey, how do ya like that?" he says pointing to his halo. "They're all wearin' these up there. It's a fad."
"Listen....old Sidney's puttin' the screws
to you, isn't he?"
"Is there any reason you didn't give him my Blue Letter? Just an old man's dying wishes, that's all."
Shoot, the Blue Letter! "I...must have misplaced it..."
"Try your apron pocket, right where you left it....imbecile! Failure to deliver a Blue Letter is grounds for dismissal."
"Aw, I'm sorry...."
"It's New Years, I'm not gonna add to your woes, I'm just sayin'. Hey, why don't ya read it? You might learn a thing or two."
The only two people not frozen in time are Moses and Aloysius. Aloysius is steamed and races over to the fuse box.
"Dear Sidney, by the time you read this I
will have joined the organization upstairs, an exciting new
beginning. I will retain fond memories of--"
"Yeah yeah yeah, standard resignation boilerplate. Go down to the second paragraph."
"You might be wondering why I decided to end my tenure, both at Hudsucker and here on Earth. Granted, from the state of our balance sheet and financials, sure sure, we're doing fine. But in my personal life, Sidney, I have made grave errors. I have let my success become my identity. I have foolishly played the great man, and watched my life become more and more empty as a result. My vanity drove away.....she who could have saved me."
Norville thinks of Amy, but Waring thinks of someone else and starts bawling.
"Yes, I loved a woman once, as you well
know. A beautiful and vibrant lady. An angel, who in her wisdom
sought to choose you, instead of I---"
Waring can't take the painful memories. "NEXT PAGE! NEXT PAGE!!" he yells while blowing his nose.
PAUSE HERE: It's on your second viewing, or maybe even your third, that you realize the woman Waring is crying over is that overbearing fat lady from the party. I love this movie.
"This brings me to our company, Sid, and
its future. Our next president must have the liberty I have had,
to experiment, and even fall--"
"Without fear of the whims of the stockholders or an impatient board, the new president must be free to fall--"
"--and learn. To fail--"
"--and rise again, by applying what he has learned. Such is business...such is life. Accordingly, I hearby bequeath.....all of my shares in Hudsucker Industries....to whoever you and the board SHALL ELECT TO SUCCEED ME AS PRESIDENT....I assume this will be you, Sidney, if not----"
Brilliant. The Coen brothers could have done anything to Norville, and indeed did just about everything, because they had this reset button in their pockets the whole time. If he has Waring's stock, he has a controlling percentage of ownership, and is unfireable.
"AHAHAHA....okay, go ahead."
"--then I urge you to work with the new president. Remind him when he needs to be reminded that failure should never lead to despair. For despair looks only to the past, in business and in love. The Future is Now. To our future president, Waring Hudsucker hereby bequeaths....his second chance."
Meanwhile back in the clock room, Moses is battling Aloysius for Norville's life. Aloysius swings at Moses and misses. Moses throws a blow and connects with Aloysius's jaw, knocking his false teeth to the floor.
Then Aloysius quits kidding around, and brings out his scraper with a sinister grin. Moses looks worried for the first time in the whole story.
Aloysius swipes! Moses moves backward! He swipes again! Moses is pinned to the railing! His only rescue is the mop he jammed in the gears...but if he takes it out.....
He has no choice! He grabs the mop and thwacks Aloysius hard, toppling the janitor off the railing and into the abyss below! Then he realizes Norville is out of chances.
Or maybe not. Norville stops again, right before he hits the ground. What could have saved him now?
Norville runs off whooping and hollering like George Bailey, as Waring shouts from above, "DELIVER THAT LETTER IN THE MORNING!" He rejoins Amy at the juice bar, and they kiss like crazy!
Moses narrates us home. "And so began 1959. When he learned that Norville owned the company, Sidney was upset at first. It was a good thing that psychiatrist was there to prevent ol' Sid from harmin' himself. He was prescribed a nice long rest in the sanishum...the sanitorshi....the booby-hatch."
"As for Norville, he went on to rule his company with passion and wisdom, and started dreamin' up those exciting new ideas again!" He's now invented the frisbee, an advanced model of his original circle, and demonstrates it for the board by flying it out the window.
Moses cryptically says, "So that's the story of Norville Barnes...the guy who jumped from the 44th floor of the Hudsucker building, all the way to the bottom, without squishin' himself! You know, there was a guy who jumped from the 45th floor....but that's a WHOOOOLE other story! AHAHAHAA!" A story never told; The Hudsucker Proxy wasn't very popular or successful. The Coens would go on to create Fargo and The Big Lebowski, two movies I hear about all the time. I still haven't seen Lebowski, but I caught half of Fargo one evening. Boy, is that overrated.
The DVD is as bare as bones get, and I expect the Blu-Ray to be just as bad, if we even get one. No special features, no nothing. Guess that job is up to me. See below. It's not much, but it's all I've got.
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WATCH SOME BEHIND-THE-SCENES HUDSUCKER FOOTAGE