Before the feature, we watched a short from The Kids In The Hall. While the skits may not be technically titled, this one would best be known as Husk Musk.
Here, Danny Husk decides to skip his deodorant for a day, and everybody loves his smell so much that in what you would think was a questionable business decision, the company he works for decides to market his musk. It becomes more than a fad, and they are finally forced to discontinue the product when it becomes so successful that it puts every other company in the world out of business.
The film opens at the stroke of midnight, January 1st, 1959, with Norville Barnes on the ledge of the 44th floor of the Hudsucker building accompanied by a narrator we will meet later. Does Norville jump? Well, before we find out, we have to see how Norville got there in the first place.
Barnes arrived in New York City just a short month before, fresh from business college in Muncie, Indiana, encumbered with no experience whatsoever. He hopes to find a job in upper management, but is forced to settle for mailroom work at the Hudsucker Corporation, one of the most successful businesses in the city.
He joins the Hud on a momentous day – the day that company founder and President Waring Hudsucker decides, apparently inexplicably, to take the fast way down from the 44th floor – through the window. (Jumping off of the most fantastic table in movie history in front of the entire Board is a major plus.) Because Hudsucker was intestate company by-laws required that his stock, a majority portion, be put up for sale on January 1st. The Board, ruthless businessmen that they are, quickly realize that they cannot afford to buy a majority interest in the company given the soaring stock prices. They quickly agree to install a moron as President to create a panic large enough to allow them to purchase it all…
Shortly after Waring Hudsucker’s demise, Norville is selected to deliver a Blue Letter – a legendary class of mail that usually carries bad news – to Vice-President Sidney J. Mussberger. His visit, where he forgets to deliver the Blue Letter is so inept that he is immediately promoted to President of the company. We soon learn that he’s chock-full of good ideas:
The panic starts almost immediately, and fast-talking reporter Amy Archer from the Manhattan Argus is dispatched to investigate the real skinny behind Norville Barnes. She feigns being a “Muncie Girl” and quickly works her way in as his personal secretary, writing scathing articles about what a moron he is behind his back.
She finds her way into the gear room of the giant clock on the Hudsucker building and meets the mysterious clockkeeper Moses, our narrator from the beginning of the story. Moses has a deep, seemingly omniscient belief in Norville, a sentiment that Amy does not share. Still, Barnes is a unintentional charmer, and she goes soft on him shortly before he is to deliver a prototype of his new product to the Board.
The Board thinks it’s a horrible idea – just bad enough to sink the stock prices further, so they approve it whole-heartedly. And their plan almost works…
…until one truant kid starts off the nation’s biggest fad, causing Hudsucker stock to soar to previously unknown heights. This will not do, and with the help of a demonically supernatural janitor (all of the Hud’s labor personnel are apparently magical) the VP learns of Amy Archer’s espionage, using it to bring about the necessary downfall of “Idea Man” Norville Barnes. Barnes is sacked on New Year’s Eve, and in desperation takes up his old mailroom apron and steps out onto the ledge of his 44th floor office.
He relents, of course, but by this time the evil janitor has locked the window behind him, and losing his balance, he falls anyhow.
And there he dies, if not for the intercession of Moses the clockkeeper. Moses stops the clock (and time itself) just before Barnes hits the ground.
While hanging above the pavement Barnes is visited by the ghost of Waring Hudsucker, who reveals among other things that the undelivered Blue Letter (still in Norville’s apron) contains his will – and all of his shares are left to his successor. It wasn’t supposed to be, but as it turns out, that’s Norville! After he safely rolls to the pavement, Barnes is President again, richer than ever, and Tough-Titty-Toenails to Sidney J. Mussberger…and doesn’t he deserve it!
It’s not a typical Coen brothers movie – there’s probably more darkness in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? – but I love this movie, simply for the relentless style.