The Great Scenes: “The Invention of the Hula Hoop” from THE HUDSUCKER PROXY
Movie: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Spoiler Level: Mild
The Setup: Part of the charm of Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant homage to screwball comedy is that the setup for this scenario is ridiculously complicated but essentially the board of Hudsucker Industries, in an attempt to drive down the company’s stock so that they themselves can buy it up for cheap, have appointed a man they believe to be a complete idiot as the new president of the company. The lovable idiot, a wide-eyed yokel named Norville Barnes (played by Tim Robbins at his most likable), comes up with an idea for a toy (“You know…for kids!”) that the board members find to be so ludicrous and destined for failure that they immediately give it the green light for production. If all goes according to plan, the idiotic product will fail miserably, the company stock will dive and the board members will gobble up control of the company.
Why It’s Great: This segment of a screwball comedy, during which the devious plan goes into effect and inevitably goes horribly wrong, can be a laborious piece of film to watch for viewers since we usually know what’s coming and are simply waiting for the film to go through the motions and set us up for what we’re really interested in, the resolution. Here, the Coen’s avoid boring us with plot-focused dialog by eliminating dialog from the equation completely. We know what’s coming and we don’t need it spelled out for us so instead, the Coen’s turn this into a kind of silent comedy sequence accompanied by the screams of children and some perfectly chosen music, Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance”. To me, this is a perfect example of how incredibly, for lack of a better word, economical the Coens are in their filmmaking, using every second, every shot, every cut to further the film’s subtle tones, motifs and unique sense of style rather than simply connecting the dots in the story.