Feature: Hail, Caesar!

Four-time Oscar®-winning filmmakers Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Fargo) write and direct Hail, Caesar!, an all-star comedy fuelled by a brilliant cast led by Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men), Oscar® winner George Clooney (Gravity), Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Oscar® winner Frances McDormand (HBO’s Olive Kitteridge), Oscar® winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) and Channing Tatum (Magic Mike).

When the world’s biggest star vanishes and his captors demand an enormous ransom for his safe return, it will take the power of Hollywood’s biggest names to solve the mystery of his disappearance. Bringing the audience along for a comic whodunit that pulls back the curtain and showcases the unexpected humour and industry drama found behind the scenes, Hail, Caesar! marks the Coens at their most inventive. It is an homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age, a valentine to the studio system laced with a lovingly acerbic edge. The film celebrates the dream factory, while cleverly pulling back the curtain to reveal some of the less-than-flattering inner workings of the film business in its heyday.

The comedy is set in the early 1950s, a period for the motion picture industry when its glamorous façade was beginning to show visible cracks. The major studios had recently been forced to divest themselves of their theatres and were facing the sudden growth of a new rival: television. They were also beset by changes in the post-World War II political and social landscape, including the hysteria of the Red Scare and the Cold War.

Hollywood responded to these threats, real and imagined, by providing audiences with big, splashy escapist entertainments: wide-screen Biblical epics featuring casts of thousands, bold Technicolor movie musicals and Busby Berkeley-style aquatic spectaculars, as well as a supply of Westerns and sophisticated drawing-room dramas.

The well-oiled machine was run like a fiefdom, with studio bosses exerting tight control over every aspect of their talents’ professional and private lives. Careers were shaped and manicured. Stars were told what movies they could appear in, how to dress,and who to date. When, inevitably, some of the actors chafed or rebelled, studios employed a fixer to cover up indiscretions and keep them out of the public eye.

No cost was too great to maintain the illusion of glamour.

“Today, we’re so used to knowing every little thing about actors and celebrities and digging into the deep dark truths of their lives,” observes Scarlett Johansson, who plays DeeAnna Moran, an aquatic film star loosely patterned on Esther Williams. “Back then, the public wanted to believe that the stars were in fact as otherworldly and ideal as they were being projected. The studios did more to protect their ‘trophies’ back in that system. The stars were like property, under contract forever and could be loaned out at any time. There were good things about that system and bad. On the one hand, theywere taken care of, and on the other, it could be rather suffocating.”

Back in the day, stars were protected by the likes of Eddie Mannix, the fixer forthe fictitious Capitol Pictures. The character is a composite of the real Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, who performed the same function for MGM. Mannix, a former bouncer, spends his days putting out fires, from sexual peccadilloes to coaxing religious leaders to approve the latest Biblical spectacle. Explains Ethan Coen: “His job would be to find some movie star down in San Diego drunk, and retrieve him and pay off all the people that he offended along the way, or get somebody who is secretly gay married off.”

The idea for Hail, Caesar! originated more than a decade ago, according to George Clooney, the Oscar®-winning actor who appears as the vain and spoiled Baird Whitlock, the star of the Biblical epic Hail, Caesar!, which gives this film its name.

Clooney was starring in another Coen brothers’ project when the filmmakers approached him. “At the time,” Clooney recalls, “they asked if I wanted to play this actor who gets kidnapped. They had about three pages of plot written down and a few terrific lines. That’s it. Of course, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Over the years, when journalists asked Clooney about his upcoming projects, he’d inevitably mention Hail, Caesar!. “It even showed up on IMDB,” Clooney laughs. “But here’s the thing. There was no script.”

Joel Coen reaffirms the story: “It’s true. Finally, we got so much grief, that we decided to sit down and write the script. Besides, it was time. If we waited much longer, everyone we wanted for the film would be too old for their roles.”

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