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Horology in the Movies: ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’

by David Mycko (12/27/09).

The giant clock at the center of "The Hudsucker Proxy."

The giant clock at the center of “The Hudsucker Proxy.”

Time, horology and the looming presence of an enormous tower clock take center stage in the classic 1994 romantic comedy “The Hudsucker Proxy.” Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo,” “No Country For Old Men”) and co-written by Sam Raimi (“Spiderman”), “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a witty, Capra-esque morality tale about fresh-faced Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), an everyman hero from Muncie, Ind., who takes a job in the mail room of New York-based Hudsucker Industries.

Hudsucker Industries is flourishing. Profits are stupendous, and stock is at an all-time high. So when their founder, Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) leaps to his death from the 44th floor, his board of directors is thrown into panic. Hudsucker has not left a will, and his majority shareholding in the company must therefore soon be offered for sale to the public. But scheming Vice President Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman) has a plan. He’ll install a complete imbecile as chairman and devalue the stock to a level where the rest of the board can acquire controlling interests for themselves.

Barnes is randomly chosen to become company president (by proxy) as part of the insider scam to lower the price of the company stock.

Then, a snoopy reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sees through the flimflam put up by Mussburger and his directors on mahogany row. She weasels her way into the company to find out what’s really going on and appears just in time to witness Norville’s master stroke that has the company floating high on Wall Street overnight . . .

When Mussberger’s manipulations drive Norville to the brink of suicide, it seems the despondent hero will plunge to his death from atop the Hudsucker clock tower at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Norville Barnes in the office of Hudsucker Vice President Sidney J. Mussburger, where the giant clock’s second hand’s is visible as it sweeps across the face.

Norville Barnes in the office of Hudsucker Vice President Sidney J. Mussburger, where the giant clock’s second hand’s is visible as it sweeps across the face.

The movie is full of horological imagery, from the massive clock to having characters symbolically wind and remove their wristwatches.

The movie is full of horological imagery, from the massive clock to having characters symbolically wind and remove their wristwatches.

His only hope is Moses the Clock Man (Bill Cobbs), the keeper and repairman of the mighty Hudsucker Clock—which is much more than just a clock. Moses uses his power over the clock to ward off the forces of darkness—personified by Aloysius, the sinister Hudsucker building sign-painter (Harry Bugin).

The scene of this epic battle? The interior of the Hudsucker clock, which has the power to halt time.

From the recurring imagery of Mussburger’s ever-present wristwatch, to the shadow of the sweeping Hudsucker Clock minute hand as it looms over Mussberger’s office interior, to scenes where several characters symbolically wind and remove their wristwatches before attempting to leap to their doom—this film is a rich tapestry of horological imagery.

The mighty Hudsucker clock, carefully marking time as it represents the machinery of the universe, has a subtle, undeniable power. For moviegoers who like a bit of horology mixed into their romantic comedy, this film is a true classic.

I greatly enjoyed “The Hudsucker Proxy.” The overdrawn characters and the ice-cold schemes to depress the stock seem outrageous at first, but the more you think about it, the more sense they make.

While very delightful and light-hearted for the most part, “The Hudsucker Proxy” is very serious about its issues. It is the way the Coen brothers turn the material in a hysterical satire and every character into a farce that makes this film so enjoyable. Despite the technical flaws—which are surprising given Warner’s status in the DVD industry—I find this disc to be a great release that no lover of intelligent comedies should miss.

Click here to watch a clip from the movie showing the power of the clock.

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David Mycko is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in antique and vintage watches.

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One Response to “Horology in the Movies: ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’”

  1. Gordon Prest says:

    I’ve been looking for a wristwatch with just such numeral style as this. I only noticed when the movie was repeated on tv recently. Do you know of a make that matches this style? Is this a recognised numeral font, with a name? Although the movie was set in the late ’50s, this has the bold look of ‘deco’ about it. Thanks

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