“Here at Capitol Pictures, as you know, an army of technicians, actors, and top notch artistic people are working hard to bring to the screen the story of the Christ. It’s a swell story,” says Eddie Mannix.
Eddie Mannix was a studio executive and producer at MGM during the 1940s and 1950s. He was also known as a fixer, someone who went to great lengths to keep the stars’ colorful private lives from becoming known to the public. He was portrayed by Bob Hoskins in the 2006 film Hollywoodland, a fictionalized account of a private investigation into the mysterious death of The Adventures of Superman star George Reeves. A heavily fictionalized version of Mannix would appear as the lead character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest farce Hail, Caesar!, a loving homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood featuring an all-star cast and a kidnapping mystery that is much more than it seems. I recently saw Hail, Caesar! on the big screen, and it was an intriguing and hilarious experience (seeing several different genres being showcased was so much fun!).
2016’s Hail, Caesar! follows a fictional Eddie Mannix in 1951 as he deals with several issues plaguing the stars at his studio Capitol Pictures, including the kidnapping of his main star of a religious epic. The Coen brothers brought together a terrific ensemble that include Josh Brolin (as Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (as Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (as Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (as Laurence Laurentz), Jonah Hill (as Joseph Silverman), Scarlett Johansson (as DeeAnna Moran), Frances McDormand (as C.C. Calhoun), Tilda Swinton (as Thora and Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (as Burt Gurney), Alison Pill (as Connie Mannix), Veronica Osorio (as Carlotta Valdez), Christopher Lambert (as Arne Slessum), Max Baker (as John Howard Hermann), David Krumholtz (as a Communist screenwriter), Fisher Stevens (as a Communist screenwriter), Robert Picardo (as the Rabbi), Clancy Brown (as a Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ co-star), Wayne Knight (as a lurking Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ extra), Dolph Lundgren (as the Soviet submarine commander), and Michael Gambon (as the Narrator).
Brolin is tough but conflicted as Mannix, who is not only trying to solve the issues with the stars at his studio but also considering whether or not he should accept a job at the Lockheed Corporation. Clooney is hilarious and somewhat idiotic as the studio’s big star, who has been kidnapped by Communists (my favorite scene of his is when Brolin literally has to smack some sense into him; I dare anyone to watch that scene and not laugh). Ehrenreich is the big surprise of the film as the lovable Western star who, while being reassigned a more prestigious costume drama, becomes involved in the search for the studio’s missing star. The rest of the cast members each get a moment to shine (including Lambert, who regrettably has no scenes together with Brown; Highlander fans know what I’m talking about). Tatum especially shines in the “No Dames” sequence as a Gene Kelly-type of actor/dancer, and his tap dancing performance is first-rate (the song is also hilarious).
The screenplay by the Coens showcases a number of different genre set pieces (a Western, a sword-and-sandals religious epic, a synchronized swimming movie, a sailor musical, and a film noir) as well as an interesting kidnapping mystery that has some surprising twists. Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography reflects the tone of the film, and Jess Gonchor’s production design is amazing (the set for the synchronized swimming sequence may be my favorite). Mary Zophres’ costume designs reflect the various films-within-the film while also reflecting the era of the film (there’s mermaid, ancient Roman, sailor, and many other types of costumes that had to be made). The editing by the Coens keeps the film moving at a good pace, and Carter Burwell delivers a wonderful score reflecting the different genres of music from the period. The Coens’ Hail, Caesar! is a wonderful homage to the Hollywood films of the early 1950s filled with entertaining performances and various set pieces comprising of different genres from the period. It’s an excellent film for both classic and non-classic film fans.