Thursday, December 31, 2009

the coen brothers-new directors inspired by old films

I have recently found myself in love with the Coen Brothers, a directing duo with an unmistakable and original style. What really endears me to some new filmmakers is their clear love of film and utilization of it in their work. As it is with Woody Allen, so it is with the Coen Brothers. 

I recently watched The Hudsucker Proxy starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Newman, with appearances by Coen Brothers favorites John Mahoney, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman. It is the story of Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), an every man who comes to New York City hoping to make it big as a businessman with a great idea for an invention which I won't reveal. The only thing I"ll say is "you know, for the kids." The President of Hudsucker Industries, a prominent NY business decides to jump out of a window leaving the board in a quandary. Their solution? Hire a complete idiot to run their company so that the stocks drop and they can buy everything back on the cheap, then make mega millions once he is removed. Fast talking dame and pulitzer prize winning newspaper woman  Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) connives her way into a job at Hudsucker to get the real scoop on Norville, portraying him as an absolute moron to the public. She discovers what is really going on behind the scenes at Hudsucker, but also discovers that she has fallen in love with Norville.

This film is more or less a conglomeration of practically every film Frank Capra ever made both in plot and in some of the shots. Norville is Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart in one package, while Amy Archer is Barbara Stanwyck meets Jean Arthur with some fast talking Rosalind Russell thrown in. 

Norville's fall from grace versus...

Long John Willoughby's in Meet John Doe

Norville is pronounced insane versus...

The trial in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

As a great fan of Frank Capra I had a lot of fun with this film. It isn't one of the Coen's best, nor does it beat the classics it references (Jennifer Jason Leigh has the speech patterns and movements of a fast talking 30s career dame down pat but lacks the inner fire smoldering beneath the tough exterior that Stanwyck and Arthur possessed) but this film is worth it for the revelation of Norville's invention and a fun way to pass the time.


  1. I loved this film! It actually is my favorite Coen brothers' film. Perhaps it's the Capra overtones!

  2. That's great! :) For me I enjoyed something like Barton Fink more that leaves something to contemplate at the end and still utilizes a lot of fun old hollywood references. Either way the Coen Brothers are tops for me.

  3. I love this movie! "You know... for kids!" I think the scene where the kid gets the hoola hoop is my favorite - that's the part I think of when I think of this movie... that and Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice. I will definitely have to revisit it after reading your post and keep Capra in mind when I do.

  4. That part is just genius, I really didn't see it coming!

  5. Para mim, o melhor filme Coen Bros é "Barton Fink"!

  6. Ditto those who've said this one's their favorite of the Coen stock. Jennifer Jason Leigh makes me grin.

  7. Dear Meredith:

    Re: Capracoen

    Techniques and speech patterns can be copied from Capra by the Coens, but there seems to be a chasm between how Capra felt about the “people” and how the Coens see them. Capra revered the common man. I suspect the Coens revile him.

    The Coen brothers’ stock in trade is ridicule I think, and they do it well. “Fargo” is a very good film but the brothers were surely sticking it to their neighbors past. Marge Gunderson, of course, was treated with respect, but she is married to one the team.

    None the less I very much liked “Blood Simple,” not the least reason being Frances McDormand. Marriage helps casting.

    But you and I are in total agreement on Woody Allen, Powell and Pressburger and Frank Capra. Andrew Sarris in his halcyon days at the Village Voice gave us guidance on the world of film and long ago wrote of the pain in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

    And Gracie Allen is enshrined in my withering memory.


    Postscript: I think David Thomson has the Coens just about right. And do not give up on ocean voyages. No, they will never be the same, but if you can, skip a cruise and do a crossing – cross the North Atlantic with Cunard. There is a huge difference as you know between ocean liners and cruise ships. There is actually only one true ocean liner left: Queen Mary 2. The North Atlantic is Cunard country.

  8. Gerald-very interesting! I still have many coen brothers films I must watch before I can comment on the full body of their work but I definitely see what you mean, especially in the above film where there does seem to be something of an emotional disconnect compared to say, the final scenes in mr. smith goes to washington. And Frances McDormand is tops.

    Ah! For some reason I just assumed that there were no more passenger crossings given faster forms of transportation, but that gladdens my heart. I will have to look into something like that.