The Coen Brothers newest film Hail, Caesar! is a must-see for movie buffs, especially those interested in classic Hollywood history. The slapstick caper comedy revolves around the kidnapping of movie star Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney, of course) at the fictional Capitol Pictures. The head of production at the studio, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), must find the star while keeping news of his disappearance out of the gossip magazines. Other stars with the studio including DeeAnn Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and the up-and-coming Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) get involved in the search for Whitlock. Hail, Caesar! takes place during Hollywood’s “Golden Age” in the 1950’s, drawing heavily from real-life figures from the film world at that time. If you’re a movie fanatic that’s interested in the history of cinema at all, then the Coen Brothers have made just the film for you.
Here’s a cheat sheet of who’s who in the film, along with their real-life Hollywood counterparts:
George Clooney as Baird Whitlock
Clooney’s role as Baird Whitlock is likely a combination of a few different actors. The film he’s working on (also titled Hail, Caesar!) is billed as a religious epic involving Whitlock as a Roman soldier. The Coen Brothers likely drew heavily from many of the “epics” filmed in the 1950s and ’60s. The character echoes Charlton Heston in his iconic Ben-Hur role, but there’s also a bit of Kirk Douglas in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 masterpiece Spartacus.
Additionally, further performances that likely informed Clooney’s depiction include Marlon Brando, who took on the iconic role of Mark Antony in 1953’s Julius Caesar. Another Mark Antony portrayal, Richard Burton’s turn in Cleopatra (the most expensive film ever made) is another film the Coens Brothers probably drew upon for inspiration.
Johansson’s character is a clear stand-in for Esther Williams, an American competitive swimmer turned actress. Her films including The Million Dollar Mermaid (lovingly spoofed in Hail, Caesar! as seen above) were incredibly popular with moviegoing audiences. Williams made over 30 movies throughout the 1940s and ’50s.
Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney
Channing Tatum’s role as Burt Gurney, a movie star filming his role as a tap-dancing sailor in a musical film, draws instant comparisons to Gene Kelly. Kelly, arguably the biggest musical star to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, could do it all. He gained popularity as a “triple threat” with audiences. In particular, Tatum and the Coen Brothers likely looked to Kelly’s roles as a sailor in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh and 1949’s On the Town as an example of his incredible talent as a dancer, singer, and actor.
Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix
Josh Brolin’s character in Hail, Caesar! is actually the one most grounded in truth. Eddie Mannix was a real figure in Hollywood, working as a studio executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Mannix was most well-known for being a “fixer,” a person who worked to protect the stars at MGM by often keeping their private lives out of the spotlight to maintain a wholesome public image. The popular podcast You Must Remember This has an entire episode devoted to Mannix that recounts his career as a fixer in fascinating detail.
Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle
Ehrenreich’s standout performance as Western star Hobie Doyle is one of the best in the film. In the 1930s and ’40s, the “singing Cowboy” was a popular archetype of many B-movie Westerns. Hobie Doyle’s character probably came together by looking at many of the actors who became famous in that genre including John Wayne, Gene Autry, Kirby Grant, Roy Rogers, and Bob Steele in films such as Riders of Destiny, Back in the Saddle, and The Old Corral.
Tilda Swinton as Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker
Swinton plays rival twin gossip columnists looking for the latest scoop quite accurately. In fact, the film studios supplied the gossip magazines of the day with news all the time throughout Hollywood’s golden era. These magazines were vital parts of the publicity system at the time. Often, publicists and studio execs would “leak” information to popular gossip columnists such as Hedda Hopper (pictured above) first. Hopper’s column for the Los Angeles Times was read by millions of readers who looked to her for information on the latest Hollywood romances, scandals, and exclusives.
There are more minor roles to look out for as well, including actress Veronica Osorio as Carlotta Valdez, a stand-in for the Portugese Brazilian samba singer and dancer Carmen Miranda who found fame on the screen. Hail, Caesar! is in theaters now, check it out and let us know what you think, classic movie buffs.
What’s your favorite Coen Brothers film? (Trick question: all of them.) Let us know in the comments below!
Images: Universal Pictures, Pretty Clever Films, and The Criterion Collection
Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist Industries. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.