2/6/16

My Spoiler-Filled Love Letter to the Coen Brothers' Love Letter to Old Hollywood

It would be easy for me to wax not-so-poetic about how much I loved "Hail, Caesar!". It would go, "Blah, blah, blah, Coen brothers still genius!, blah, blah, blah, Remember The Hudsucker Proxy?!, blah blah feelings, blah personal anecdote, the end."

Then I realized a more helpful contribution might be a primer to the many references from "Hail, Caesar!"  I'm proud of my film pedantsmanship. (No, it's not a real word. But it should be.)

Anyway, why not put my mildly unhelpful superpower to good use and point people toward the real sources of the fictionalized characters from the film?

The dreamlike universe the Coens create is a nice place to visit if you already know the referential sites. If you're new to Old Hollywood, here are some stars and films to see after "Hail, Caesar!"



1. Gene Kelly in "Cover Girl". I should tell you to watch "Anchors Aweigh", but if I get one shot at introducing you to Gene Kelly, I'm taking it on "Cover Girl".

Once you fall in love with him (and you will) you can proceed to "Singin' In The Rain" and THEN to "Anchors Aweigh".

The idea that the Coens wrote yet another incredible detective story and cast it with fictionalized versions of true Hollywood figures is brilliant.

The idea that they pose the question, what would the world have been like if McCarthy's communism fears were founded, is hysterical if you know your history. (And therefore also historical about hysteria.)

Gene Kelly WAS the red-blooded American man in film at the time, so the juxtaposition of him being a Russian spy/recruit is too good for any more of my dumb words. And, oh no...I'm fangirling. List, Audrey, list!

The real takeaway here is that I think a great reaction to all unreasonable political movements is to have the Coen Brothers make spoof movies about them as though they were true.

Here's Gene:


These Gene Kelly movies will also show you how much you should appreciate some of the dead ringers they cast for Rita Hayworth, Phil Silvers, gossip journalist Hedda Hopper and many of the other iconic personalities of that era.

2. Carmen Miranda in everything. She makes me feel too much appreciation to write anything that's not super saccharine. So just watch her shiny light shine ridiculously bright in this clip, then go research all the movies she had to play second banana in when she should've been the star. (That banana reference was accidental. Seriously though, start with Betty Grable.)

Here's Beautiful, Shiny, Graceful Carmen:


3. Eddie Mannix was real and the idea that the Coen Bros. turned him into the earnest hero of the film is another intricate puzzle piece and a huge part of what makes "Hail, Caesar!" so clever for history buffs.

You can learn all you need to know about the real Eddie from this episode of the podcast You Must Remember This. Then, enjoy the shame and ridicule of your friends and family as you abandon your entire life for about a month to listen to every other episode of this engrossing show.

Don't worry, it will be worth it. (Someone sent me the podcast after I started drafting this and I had to go back and edit it in. I'm obsessed with it now.) 

4. I genuinely love Ben Hur. You should too. It says so much about the world at the time the movie was made (1959) and movies at the time that movie was made and the way we reflect on it now says so much about our cynical culture and if you'll excuse me, I'm sinking into a pit of pretentious quicksand...

Here's Ben Hur:


5. Over time, people have forgotten that water ballet was once popular. They think it's a Miss Piggy joke or maybe they kind of know about synchronized swimming from the olympics...or from the classic Martin Short/Harry Shearer SNL skit.

What's that, you say? People don't know that either? I'm getting older and therefore my references are more obscure?

For some reason, Esther Williams has not stuck to the collective pop culture consciousness like she should've. But her career was storied, between her live shows and films, she was an absolute force with no current equivalent.

(And I adored Scarlett Johansson's performance. Let's hear it for the juxtapositional comedy of an elegant swimmer being a sassy troubled dame!)

Here's Esther in one of my favorites:



May you toddle off to the theater and plunk down your bank card for the price of admission forthwith! The truth is, even if you know zilch about old Hollywood, this is still a classic Coen Bros. comedy in it's own right and can be enjoyed for that reason alone. So, go already!

P.S. Laurence Laurentz was Howard Hawks, right? If so, I'm sneaking in one more. My favorite Howard Hawkes movie, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

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