The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Sweet Smell of Success

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Coen Brothers are hit and miss with me (I tend to have a preference more towards their comedy then their drama) but The Hudsucker Proxy is by far my favourite movie of theirs, a film which feels like it was tailor made for me. The Hudsucker Proxy takes place in its own unique universe; the acting style in the film is reminiscent of the 1930’s yet the film is set in the 1950’s. Likewise there appears to be a clash of fashion; the outfits are from the 30’s yet the cars or the beatnik coffee house which Norvillie visits are unmistakably 1950’s but I like this combination of two eras, two distinct time periods of Hollywood’s golden age wrapped into one. The Hudsucker Proxy is a movie with so many layers and homage’s to other movies (Sweet Smell of Success, Metropolis, The Apartment, The Producers, various Frank Capra movies); I’m sure with future viewings I will unlock even more secrets the movies holds.

The Hudsucker Proxy is a love letter to anyone who loves the aesthetic of classic Hollywood movies with set designs to die for such as Paul Newman’s office, an art deco fantasy land; yet the movie even injects some Terry Gilliam-esque cinematography with the scene in the mail room feeling like the world from 1985’s Brazil. Likewise this is a movie of drawn out colours, mostly greys in what I feel is an attempt to emulate the appearance of black & white.

What happened to Tim Robbins? He was on such a hot streak of films during the first half of the 90’s, just after this he was in The Shawshank Redemption (one of the best two film streaks ever?); since then, not so much. The character of Norvillie Barnes is a Preston Sturges hero trapped in a Frank Capra story; although due to Robbin’s resemblance to a young Orson Welles the character comes off to me as someone who has the look of Welles but has the personality of Gary Cooper; a young entrepreneurial go getter with a wide eyed innocence who is not fully in tune with reality, or at least hasn’t been subjected to it yet. When he first arrives in New York and tries looking for a job, the word “experience” is plastered all over the frame, oh the reliability.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a revelation here; channelling Rosalind Russell, yet I can still detect elements of Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanywck and Jean Arthur in there. The coordination of her gestures is perfect and I’m also fascinated by her character dynamic in which she becomes insecure about her femininity or lack therefore off at Norville’s comments of her trying to be one of the boys. Although it’s never resolved, this still gives her character another layer of depth. Paul Newman on the other hand rarely ventured into comedy but he pulls of the cigar chomping, “you’re fired!” type boss with ease.

The film’s combination of numerous elements from various genres is also carried over in its humour, from dry jokes to more overt, fast talking screwball antics. The gag with the circle drawn on the piece of paper followed by the uttering of “you know, for kids!” never gets old, even if the movie’s poster somewhat spoils the joke. While the sequence detailing the creation and distribution of the Hula Hoop, I don’t think I could you ask for a better fast paced quirky montage. Likewise the (almost literal) Deus Ex Machina ending could have easily come off as a copout but I feel is rescued from being so from the plot element of the blue letter; I completely forgot that even existed until the angel of Warren Hudsucker reminds a suicidal Norville about it; now that’s a sign of an engaging film.

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The Rocketeer (1991)

Blast from the Past!

As a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, how can I not love The Rocketeer? I delight in all those old Hollywood references, from lines such as “You stood behind Myrna Loy with a bowl of grapes”, to a movie set very similar to the castle interior from The Adventures of Robin Hood. I even find myself thinking this film’s protagonist has a pretty sweet life going for him; he gets to fly planes all day, has a hot aspiring actress girlfriend and lives in 1930’s Hollywood.  The cast of The Rocketeer have that cartoony look which stars of the 1930’s possessed; even one of the film’s villains is modeled after Rondo Hatton, a not well known b-movie player with a uniquely disfigured face. The film also provides a nostalgic look at the golden age of aviation; ah for the days when aviation was a gentleman’s pursuit, back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.

Why do these pulp serial adventures keep failing at the box office (The Shadow, The Phantom, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)? Of course, The Rocketeer’s lack of box office success canceled plans for an intended trilogy. Are audiences just not interested in these kinds of films, or do they just keep getting poorly marketed? Either way, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Timothy Dalton is the one of who steals the show as the Errol Flynn-esque Neville Sinclair. Dalton really is one of the last of his kind, as a Shakespearean trained actor who can play these types debonair, hammy villains, both here and his role in Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Errol Flynn himself has had (hopefully untrue) posthumous accusations of being Nazi sympathiser. What’s scarier than Nazis? The Rocketeer has the answer: Rocket-propelled Nazis who can travel across the Atlantic on their jetpacks.

My only complaint with The Rocketeer and the only aspect which prevents me from awarding the movie with the mighty 10, is the lead protagonist Cliff Secord played by Billy Campbell, whom I find not to be terribly interesting. While it could be argued he’s supposed to be dull in keeping with the tradition of B-movie serials having bland leading men. Still, I would rather have a more charismatic screen presence but when a movie still manages to be this much fun despite this nor do I ever care in the slightest as to why the rocket blasts to not burn off the back of Cliff’s legs, it’s defiantly doing something right.