We’re all familiar with the glitz and the glamour of 1950s Hollywood but this was also a time when the introduction of television threatened the popularity of the movie industry, and the power of the celebrity began to triumph over the power of the studio system. The rise of Communism created a lot of scaremongering in the industry to the point where many actors and writers were either blacklisted or incarcerated for their beliefs. Hail, Caesar! pays homage to the magical iconography of the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as shedding some comedic light on the shenanigans that were going on behind the scenes…
It’s 1951, and in a classic neo-noir sequence we are introduced to the lead character of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is Head of Production at Capitol Pictures and in charge of maintaining the image of the studio. He is the classic conflicted workaholic who goes to feels compelled to go to confession everyday to ease his conscience about his many misdemeanours.
Hail, Caesar! is the studio’s main production and Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is the leading man in his Kirk Douglas Spartacus type attire on his epic set in Ancient Rome. In a nod to the Golden Age, the movie pays tribute to many of the Hollywood greats, with characters such as Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who is the starlet synchronised swimmer of the studio like the real life Esther Williams. Meanwhile Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is the classic Western hero whose acting skills don’t go far beyond singing on a horse and showing off his lasso skills, much like John Wayne. And with a delightful sequence of table dancing in a sailor suit from Burt Gurney it could be argued that Channing Tatum’s character is based on Gene Kelly.
In true Coen genre-busting style, however, all is not as it may seem, as Deanna is pregnant out of wedlock with no potential father to be seen and Hobie (by order of the studio) is hopelessly failing at trying to be a serious dramatic actor. These issues are soon forgotten though, when Eddie Mannix finds out that Baird Whitlock has been drugged and kidnapped by a group calling themselves ‘The Future’ who are demanding a $100,000 for his safe return.
When he awakens in a secluded beach house Baird is introduced to The Future; a group of communist screenwriters in protest against the greed of the capitalist movie studio. The irony of the ‘Red Scare’ is prevalent in these scenes as it's clear the group poses no real threat to the West, and after being educated on the Utopian ideals of Karl Marx, Whitlock appears a convert, quite content with being held hostage whilst sipping on a martini. Meanwhile, Eddie is going out of his mind trying to find the ransom money to rescue Whitlock whilst fending off relentless journalist Tilda Swinton, on the look out for the next big scandal
The characterisation in this film is great; we are presented with all the Golden Hollywood stereotypes, but each are flawed in their own way, highlighting the hypocrisy in the way movie studios create pristine public images for their stars. The humour in the film is very much reminiscent of a Carry On movie and rather than highlight the glamour of the industry, it makes comedy of the ludacrisy behind the façade.
Hail, Caesar! is a movie within a movie about the movie business and the Coen Brothers have done a great job in honouring this beloved bygone era, whilst making light of many of the pressing issues of the time. We all love the classics but seeing the madness that happened behind the camera is just as entertaining!
Hail, Caesar! is now showing at FACT - click here to book tickets.