The Greatest Conservative Films: Hail, Caesar! (2015)
“Now you listen to me, buster—Nick Schenk and this studio have been good to you, and to everyone else who works here. …You’re gonna go out there, and you’re gonna finish Hail, Caesar! You’re gonna give that speech at the feet of the penitent thief, and you’re gonna believe every word you say. And you’re gonna do it because you’re an actor, and that’s what you do. Just like the director does what he does, and the writer and the script girl and the guy who claps the slate. You’re gonna do it because the picture has worth! And you have worth if you serve the picture. And you’re never gonna forget that again.”
Never let it be said, dear readers, that I do not fulfil my promises. When this series began, I told you this list would be YOUR list, as well as mine. If you think of a film I haven’t looked at—post your suggestion in the comments section of the intro, and I’ll give it a look. If I’m convinced, I’ll do it!
Well…a fellow named Victor Kuc made a suggestion, like so:
It is a recent film but I would dare suggest “Hail Caesar” is a contender for the list.
The reason for this is the main character, who seemingly works 20 hours a day doing a mostly unseen job. This is contrasted well with the socialist “intellectual” writers who are discussing the “working class struggles” from the comfort of their beach side house.
Finally, it has one of the most satisfying scenes near the end that I have seen in a movie where these two come head to head.
Well, I saw Hail, Caesar!…and I’m convinced. So, with thanks to Victor Kuc, let us begin…
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
Critics who get political can be cute, sometimes…especially for those of us in the know about, well, reality. True, sometimes it isn’t so amusing—sometimes, like the reviews of Mom’s Night Out and 13 Hours that disgraced the site once run by Roger Ebert, the politicization becomes vomit-inducing.
But in the case of Hail, Caesar!—well, the film’s reviews are actually mostly positive, if you take a gander at Rotten Tomatoes. But quite a few times, the critics on the Left express…well, bewildered disappointment at how the Coen Brothers, in their minds, trivialized the oh so dark and twisted tragedy of the Blacklist and the Red Scare, by making it a source of…of…laughter! How could they…?!
Hey, Lefties, could’ve been worse. Joel & Ethan could’ve taken a hard look at how the Communist Party in Hollywood actually bullied writers who didn’t toe the Party line—that the HUAC hearings arose in part because of that. That’s the blacklist no one dares talk about—the Communists forcing non-Communists out of consideration for screenwriting jobs. Without, mind you, the option of working under assumed names.
Well, the Coen Brothers didn’t do that. They’re more at home with comedy, after all. Their style’s more in line with poking fun at the Old Hollywood Left—showing their ideology as 1) stupid, 2) self-righteous, and 3) hypocritical.
Which, of course, it was. And still is.
As Shapiro tells us, “Fact’s don’t care about your feelings.”
Here, the Communists kidnap Baird Whitlock, star of Capitol Pictures’ monumental Roman epic Hail, Ceasar! Their plan: to hold Whitlock to ransom for $10 million—while in the meantime indoctrinating him. Peppering their “education” with a threat or two, of course. They are Communists, after all.
One thing that really catches my interest in that scene: The Reds eagerly admit to Baird how they insert Communist propaganda into movies—subtly, of course. It’s a big part of what the HUAC hearings were all about—and why they focused first and foremost on the screenwriters, like Trumbo and Foreman. (Alas, to Ayn Rand’s chagrin, the hearings didn’t investigate that subtle kind of messaging nearly as much as they should’ve, preferring to “examine” the blatant stuff of Song Of Russia than to dare go after the subtle anti-businessman, pro-big-government elements of The Best Years Of Our Lives. But I digress.)
Naturally, their doctrines are complete nonsense—and the Coen Brothers know it, with perfect lines like, “We’re not talking about money—we’re talking about…economics!”
While we’re at it, they lounge around in a beach house, eating square-cut crust-less sandwiches. Limousine liberals. Cancun Commies. In a word: hypocrites—underlined by the fact that they’re motivated by how underpaid they deem themselves to be—as some of them are more honest about than others.
And they’re so self-deluded they don’t realize any of it. Their drivel is so meaningless and empty that, while Baird seems to find common ground with them…it’s over meaningless things he blathers on about.
The film beautifully skewers Marxism by showing it as high-sounding nonsense—nonsense that, alas, leads many to do terrible, destructive things.
As C.S. Lewis (quoting Luthor in the opening of The Screwtape Letters) noted…sometimes the best way to defeat the devil is to mock him.
Karma For The Commies:
“Triple-threat” Burt Gurney—actor, singer, dancer. And unlike Hobie Doyle, Gurney is as dumb as he looks—if not dumber. As it turns out, he’s a sap for the Communists, the “friend” in whose beach house the Communists hold their meetings. Ultimately he defects onto a Soviet submarine, to help the Red image…or something. (Channing Tatum, who plays Gurney, has noted himself that he seriously doubts the character even has a clue what Communism is. Story of many a Hollywood Lefty. Hello, Sean Penn….)
At any rate, the Communist screenwriters—the kidnappers—suddenly decide to give the ransom payment to Gurney, to go to Russia for The Cause. Exactly what for isn’t indicated—these guys are so far gone as to never bother to ask. Just like they’ve never bothered to ask why a Communist paradise would possibly need money stolen from an American movie studio. Surely the Soviet Union is prosperous…right?
At any rate, the transfer’s met with hilarious disaster. The money’s lost—and amid all this, Baird’s been found by Hobie and rescued. The whole endeavor was pointless, with Gurney’s defection being the only thing to show for it.
Oh, and the fact that all the other Reds are rounded up. Justice…served cold.
“Shut Up And Sing!”
Well, Baird Whitlock’s back where he belongs—in the studio, about to go back to work. But before that, Eddie’s still got to deal with the Communist indoctrination that’s gotten to Baird’s head….
Simple. To the point. It’s the kind of thing one wishes would happen to all the celebrities who’ve fallen prey to the Lefty nonsense, spewing off platitudes and repeating each other in self-righteous PSAs—when it’s perfectly clear to everyone else that they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
For many a Conservative…it’s very rewarding, indeed. Joel & Ethan, you speak for all of us, whether you know it or not.
I’d like to think you do.
“Downstream From Culture”:
Early on, Eddie Mannix holds a meeting with a Catholic and an Orthodox priest, a Protestant minister, and a Jewish rabbi, to basically cover the bases for Hail, Caesar!
Contrary to the typical mindset that these “Legion of Decency” types were suppressors of art, the gentlemen in the sequence seem quite okay with things. The Orthodox priest is more concerned with verisimilitude (“I thought the chariot scene was fakey”). Eddie essentially has to push them into talking about the theological issues…which eventually just winds back to “meh, no real problem there”.
Of course, some dark humor arises in the process, with the rabbi arguing with the other three over Jesus and the nature of God—but in the end, even he shrugs and offers no objection to the script.
(By the way, Joel & Ethen Coen are Jewish, themselves. The rabbi’s virtue-signaling isn’t anti-Semitic. If anything, it’s self-deprecation about the “stiff-neck” stereotype.)
But it’s Eddie’s opening statement to them that’s key, here:
“Gentlemen, thank you all for coming—I know you have parishes, flocks, and temples making enormous demands on your time. But I’m sure you appreciate also that great masses of humanity look to pictures for information and uplift—and yes, entertainment.”
See, one of the things that set the Golden Age apart from later periods of Hollywood was the industry-wide acknowledgement that popular culture does have an effect on the public mindset. As the late great Andrew Breitbart told us, “Politics is downstream from Culture”. This helped power the Production Code—for better and for worse, I suppose. Excesses notwithstanding, it’s nice to be reminded of a time where the industry made sure to come out and admit its power—rather than pushing “socially conscious” messages while laughably claiming it’s “just entertainment”.
For Bonus Points:
A “subplot” point involves the pregnancy of musical actress DeeAnna Moran. Pay close attention to her arc, and you’ll notice that never once is abortion even considered—even in a throwaway line. No question of whether she wants to deliver—nothing. As far as everyone—including DeeAnna—is concerned, the baby’s a life, and “terminating” isn’t even thought of as an option.
As Baird wakes up in the Communists’ beach house, the first person he encounters is a weary seen-it-all maid who seems to view “the Hollywood people” (the Communist group) with resigned disdain. Naturally: For all their talk about “the little guy—the regular Joe” and so forth, they sure seem content to hire out the labor to servants they treat as little more than a piece of the furniture.
Oh…and did I mention George Clooney getting smacked in the face? For being an idiot and a dupe of the Left, no less!
Gotta love when Hollywood Lefties get self-aware. If only for a moment—on-screen, for a part in a movie….
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
Apparently there are two kinds of Coen Brothers films: Films you like the first time…and films you don’t like the first time because they’re so off-beat and weird—but if someone ever drags you into watching them again, suddenly you get it, and love them!
Supposedly, The Big Lebowski is the latter. I dunno. I’ve only seen it once.
Films of theirs I liked the first time, and loved, include Miller’s Crossing (a beautiful Godfather-style gangster flick with an unforgettable theme) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (weird as it is, it ramps up the Noir mood up to eleven from the very beginning).
Hail, Caesar! is another one I liked from the beginning. And why not? The cinephiles among us…along with those who don’t care for modern movies, and look at back at classics and go, “They just don’t make films like that anymore!”—well, both should get a kick out of how lovingly and passionately Joel & Ethan recreate the look-and-feel (mise-en-scene, for the cinephiles) of that big, bold, studio-centric atmosphere of the Golden Age.
Hooray For Hollywood!
As the title implies, the tribute centers on the old-school “sword-and-sandals” epics a la Ben-Hur, The Robe, Cleopatra, and the works of Cecil B. DeMille. They were the big-budget “blockbusters” of their time—and as such, the studios spared no expense to make darn sure that nothing went wrong.
And if the recent CGI-addicted remake of Ben-Hur is any indication…yeah, it’s just not the same, nowadays.
Naturally, considering the Coen Brothers, the Roman epic being shot by Capitol Pictures is a nudging spoof, of sorts—of Ben-Hur and The Robe in particular. Opening dialogue and narration sounds particularly grandiose-to-the-point-of…a bit forced. But it makes us smile—not cringe.
(And for those in the know about basic New Testament Chronology…yeah, it’s probably part of the exaggeration that the film-within-a-film gets the timeline all mixed up. To the best of my knowledge, the real Golden-Age Biblical Epics were never so lost as to have Saul’s/Paul’s vision happening before Jesus’s crucifixion….)
Meanwhile, there’s Hobie Doyle in his element of low-budget B-Westerns, where he still gives his all with his mastery of stunt fighting and singing. Perhaps he’d have found it more fulfilling to graduate to the oaters of John Ford or Howard Hawks—but alas, he’s thrown into high-society melodrama picture Merrily We Dance, due to the studio grasping at straws for a young male lead now.
“Would that it were so simple” indeed.
There’s DeeAnna’s Busby-Berkley-esque number, as a mermaid amid swimmers and a whale, brought to artistic heights…even literally.
And there’s Burt Gurney’s navy musical—a nod to On The Town…and then some:
Sword-and-sandal epics. Westerns. High-society melodramas. “Aquatic pictures”. And musicals. All staples of Classical Hollywood. All genres pretty much gone, nowadays.
Seeing how well the snippets of them hold up, here…it’s enough to make one wish for their return.
Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix:
Eddie is such a compelling, likable character—trying to do right by his wife, while also wholly devoted to his work for the studio…and struggling with whether he can fulfill both priorities. Every little detail is a delight to notice—the shots of his watch as he checks them, the sad ways where he lifts cigarette, etc. We feel like we know Eddie. We pity him for his faults—admire him for trying to overcome—and really admire his devotion to getting the job done. And we root for him, all the while.
As we see him cleverly juggle and solve the many problems the studio faces, it becomes increasingly clear to us—and to him—that the reason he doesn’t take a more comfortable (and frankly convenient) job elsewhere…is because, despite everything, he loves the movie business. Warts and all.
Something a Conservative Culture Warrior like myself can certainly connect with.
Josh Brolin gives a great deal of heart to Eddie—from the very first scene, as he confides his shortcomings to his priest (whom he’s all but worn out with his daily sessions—kudos to Padre for his seemingly unlimited patience!). And by the end, we can feel the joy coming out of him—the fulfilment, as he realizes that he’s right where he belongs. Where he truly, in his heart, wants to be.
George Clooney as Baird Whitlock:
Charismatic and filled with presence…and shallow beyond his job, and as it turns out, easily led. Filled with charm where you can’t help but admire…and goofy slowness off-set, where you can’t help but laugh.
Kudos to George Clooney for being game for all that—let alone perfectly conveying a charismatic sap. Clooney’s got a natural debonair about him…but the Coen Brothers helped uncover his absurdist side—and clearly love having him revel in it.
The Rest Of The Cast:
Alden Ehrenreich—the upcoming Young Han Solo—is Hobie Doyle, the “mere” cowboy actor who turns out to be a very good assistant for Eddie. We see him at first start off seeming quite simplistic…and then, bit by bit, the layers get unveiled—his mind, and his heart. When he sits in Eddie’s office for the first time, he reveals how observant he is…leading to Mannix revealing the situation to him, of Baird’s kidnapping. Hobie offers a valuable insight—and from that point on, we know darn well not to underestimate this “simple” cowboy actor.
Channing Tatum plays Burt Gurney—who is simple-minded, and a dupe for “The Future”. Charming, dashing…and all on-the-surface. But he’s got some mean singing and dancing skills—courtesy of Tatum showing off more skill than he has up till this film. Mike’s still Magic, I suppose!
Scarlett Johansson is DeeAnna Moran, convincing both in the character’s glamorous on-screen persona and her sassy “real” one.
Jonah Hill has a one-scene role as the studio’s hired fall guy Joe Silverman…who turns out to be the perfect solution for DeeAnna, after all—getting a “happy ending” for himself, to boot.
Tilda Swinton kills as the reporter twins—delightfully snooty and deadpan, and amusingly competitive with…herself?
Ralph Fiennes plays “prestigious” director Lawrence Lorenz—to formal yet flustered perfection.
Robert Picardo—yes, The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager—cameos as the rabbi who’s seemingly just there in the room to sulk and grumble.
Michael Gambon is The Narrator—booming and dramatic in his epic recounting of events, as though he’s still in Hail, Caesar! Well…the Hail, Caesar! within Hail, Caesar!—you know….
Carter Burwell’s the go-to composer for the Coen Brothers—and he’s also done The Bourne Identity. And Twilight, but let’s not hold that film itself against him….
Regardless, there’s something to the fact that the main melody of Hail, Caesar! fits just as perfectly as the stirring, rousing, bombastic theme of a Roman epic…as it does a mellow, pointed, noir-ish piece, amid Eddie’s nighttime musings.
There’s also the gloriously Russian choir piece during the “submarine” sequence, reminiscent of The Hunt For Red October.
A (Motion) Picture Is Worth…
While dealing with all the mayhem at the studio, Eddie’s faced with a major job prospect at Lockheed. The guy making the offer focuses his pitch on how airlines are, well, “the real world”.
As opposed to, say, the motion pictures.
On paper, it’s all tempting—better hours, better pay. But Eddie finds himself unable to give an answer…as if something’s still pulling him to remain right where he is. What good is it to work, well, 20-hour days…cleaning up everyone’s messes, in a studio in Hollywood?
The whole movie itself gives an answer. For all its flaws—for all its warts, and messes, and scandals and threatened scandals…there’s something about the world of cinema. Call it “movie magic”, if you will—but as Eddie himself explains at one point, people just want to believe!
It’s an escape from the cares of “the real world”, or “the future”. Information…uplift…and yes, entertainment. A break, to help us recharge in a way that captures our imaginations. And in his own way, Eddie comes to re-learn…he’s a part of that.
Good enough for him.
By The Way…
As Eddie and the studio attorney guide DeeAnna through the process of “adoption”…it’s explained to her that the records won’t be made public until 2015. Take a look at the title of this article.
Well played, Joel & Ethan. Well played.
Buy the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Captain America: Civil War. (2016)
The Green Berets (1968)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
Latest posts by Eric Blake (see all)
- The Greatest Conservative Films: Gran Torino (2008) - December 12, 2017
- Movie Review: Justice League—Do NOT Believe The Haters!!! - November 18, 2017
- The Greatest Conservative Films: Hail, Caesar! (2015) - November 16, 2017