In 1994, just before "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski", the Coen Brothers made their first foray into big budgets and bigger stars with THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.
A wacky fable about invention and opportunity, the characters are broad and the performances even larger.
Paul Newman is Sidney J. Mussburger, the Chairman of the Board of Hudsucker Industries. When their owner takes a leap off the top of their skyscraper (hilariously depicted as only the Coens do effortlessly), Mussburger and the board decide to hire the biggest idiot they can find to run the company into the ground.
When the stock bottoms out, they'll buy it all up for pennies on the dollar and make a fortune.
Enter Tim Robbins as newly minted business grad student Norville Barnes. Fresh off the proverbial truck, Norville has buckets of good intentions and zero experience.
Soon he's whisked off to the top floor and put in charge.
Jennifer Jason Leigh brings double barrel intensity and rapid-fire comic speed to her role as reporter Amy Archer.
Patterned after the screwball comic patter of Katherine Hepburn's sparring with Spencer Tracy, Leigh fires off so much dialogue that all the jokes hit fast and furious.
Charles Durning is hilarious, John Mahoney (Frazier) is a hoot and they all exist in the fantastic production design of Dennis Hassner (Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049) who brings the Coen's off kilter vision to life on a grand scale.
It's all shot beautifully by Roger Deakins, who would go on to do every future Coen Brothers film.
It's funny, manic and bizarre in all the right ways. The second half didn't hold up nearly as well for me as their future films, growing a tad predictable while it continues to assault your eyeballs.
Robbins is a lot of fun and there are plenty of laughs for any of us who have spent our lives in sales. The ups and downs generate a lot of humor.
I'll give THE HUDSUCKER PROXY a solid B. You can see a lot of the style and unique dark humor that would fully bloom in two years later with Fargo. This was a massive bomb, grossing two million against a forty million budget. Clearly its ripened nicely with age.