Friday, August 26, 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

It seems like there’s always some major celebrity event going on.  There are divorces, arrests, tyrades, feuds and all manner of other things to fill the magazines and tabloids.  This isn’t to say that all of it is true, but there is the ever present celebrity gossip/news.   Growing up, I asked my mother why it seemed like stars from her childhood didn’t seem to have any scandals.  Did celebrities not have affairs when she was my age?  Did they simply not make it into the history books?  The truth was that studios had people like Eddie Mannix.

Eddie Mannix is head of physical production for Capitol Studios.  He deals primarily with damage control.  The movie is set in 1951 and Capitol is making a movie called Hail, Caesar of all things.  Hail, Caesar stars Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney.  Whitlock isn’t that bright.  He can act alright, but he manages to get himself kidnapped very easily by a group of Communists calling themselves The Future.

When Whitlock wakes up, he starts to hang out with The Future not realizing that they’re asking for $100,000 in ransom.  Mannix not only has to deal with the ransom demand, but he has to contend with competing gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker.  (It doesn’t help that they’re twins.)  Add to this a pregnant actress who doesn’t seem to be in any rush to marry the father.  His solution is to have her put the child into foster care so that she can adopt the child without public finding out she‘s the mother.  Oh, and there’s the Western star, Hobie Doyle, who’s forced by the studio to star in a period piece.   Doyle has no business being in a period piece and everyone knows it, but it’s what the studio wants.  This makes an offer from Lockheed very appealing, as he’d be done with all of the stress.

I was able to watch the movie on a flight back to Miami a few weeks ago.  I kind of wish that my parents had watched it, as well, because I suspect that a lot of the context is lost on me.  Apparently, there was an actual Eddie Mannix who worked for MGM.  It appears that the similarities are tenuous, but most of the characters do seem to have real-life counterparts.  The real Mannix did try to cover up a pregnancy of an actual star.  Many of the problems that he had to deal with actually did happen to someone, at least on a superficial level.

A good deal of the context was lost on me, as I grew up in the 1980s.  This isn’t to say the movie can’t be enjoyed by younger audiences.  It’s just that I don’t think Westerns have ever been really big in my lifetime, at least in the sense that they were big for my parents when they were growing up.  There are many one-off scenes that mirror actual scenes in movies or pay tribute to a particular style of film.  I don’t think there are any similar styles in production today.

I wish I had someone to discuss this with, particularly someone who knows more about that era.  I don’t know how much was lost on me, exactly, or how it would have affected watching the movie had I known more.  The movie was still entertaining to me.  It was fun watching Josh Brolin and George Clooney play their respective roles.  I also caught a few cameos from actors like Jonah Hill and Robert Picardo.  (I know.  I can’t help but point out Trek actors in non-Trek roles.)    The fact that it was set in 1951 didn’t bother me at all.  I do wonder, though, what the present day will look like in movies sixty years from now.

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