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Hail, Caesar (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 105 minutes.

OK for children.

This look at Hollywood in 1951 has lots of homages to Hollywood history. There are references to Esther Williams (an unnamed character played by foul-mouthed Scarlett Johansson) and Busby Berkeley choreography and Loretta Young and the baby she denied (Judy), Hedda Hopper (a shrewish Tilda Swinton), a singing cowboy who canít act (take your pick) named Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), the Hollywood Ten, and Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), among many others.

In fact, as to the latter two, the Hollywood Ten and Eddie Mannix, they arenít just references; they are what the movie is about. It even uses his real name, which is interesting in that they donít use any other real names. Mannix was MGMís quintessential fixer. If some star got in trouble, Eddie (Josh Brolin, who even looks a little like the real Eddie) fixed it, no matter what was required. He was even rumored to have been involved in the death of George Reeves, TVís Superman, who was alleged to have killed himself, but there have been as many rumors about the actual facts of his death as there are about who really wrote Shakespeare.

Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, produced, and directed this and they did a superb job, at least at capturing the ambience of the era and creating a light hearted, comedic touch to the film. Itís not uproariously funny, but it has its moments. The best of the film are the production values and the recreation of Hollywood circa 1951.

Even though this is an obvious parody, it is an astonishing film to come out of todayís Hollywood because it actually shows a group of writers who admit that they are Communists and that they used art as a weapon in accordance with Stalinís directives (as alleged by the House Un-American Activities Committee), and that they were taking their orders directly from Russia.

The victim is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, no less), who is starring in a Roman saga and is kidnapped by the Commie writers. Mannix is trying to find him to wrap the movie. The film takes it from there.