The Soviets had been an ally in WWII. How ironic that the Soviet "menace" emerged post-war. "Hail, Caesar!" trivializes the so-called Communist threat in Hollywood. The movie finds levity in this, and ultimately strives to create an air of foolishness around the extreme left-wing folks. That reflects our template of today. Hollywood always reflects the template of today. We're living in a time when, Bernie Sanders' crowds notwithstanding, "lefties" are on the defensive, when throngs admire Donald Trump who has taken the Republican course.
Plausibility problem distracts me
The George Clooney character, essentially a clueless boob, gets disabled and unconscious early in "Hail, Caesar!" Something is placed in a beverage he consumes on the movie set. A couple of low-profile actors sneaked a substance into the beverage. There's a plausibility problem here - sorry to insert such an inconvenient thing, but plausibility matters - because, how could the perpetrators know that Clooney's character would pass out when he was alone? The "bad guys" were poised to whisk him away. Clooney indeed ended up alone during a break, whereupon the bad guys take him to this nest of unsavory (but pretty harmless) communists. We see the "Trumbo" types hanging around. We get the feeling these are disgruntled souls, feeling underappreciated. We don't get the sense that ideology means everything to them. It's rather like a faculty lounge.
Clooney becomes quickly sympathetic, not that his mind is ever seriously challenged by anything. One of the commie characters defects to the Soviet Union late in the movie. There's a dramatic scene, with a little attempted humor thrown in, where the defector is rowed out to a submarine.
In real life, communist sympathizers never had any inclination to leave for the Soviet Union. Oh, Lee Harvey Oswald did. But the overwhelming impression of the real Soviet Union was that it was a dark and depressing place, not an authentic representation of how a collectivist-based society could work. Mikhail Gorbachev just shrugged about the term "communism," seeming alien to him, and said it was just evidence of "organized crime." Whenever leaders aren't democratically elected, you could say it's like organized crime.
Hollywood is portrayed in "Hail, Caesar!" as a place especially desperate to please its audiences, due to the impending threat of the television medium. The year is 1951. Oh, that's the year that gave us "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a wonderful but Cold War-fixated movie. The desperation to please movie fans is suggested as a reason that Tinseltown turned out so much schlock. Silly rabbit, all businesses are desperate to please their customers all the time. Hollywood is "the dream factory" and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Hollywood today is incredibly risk-averse. Thus we see "franchises" of movies, like Batman, getting done over and over. I felt Batman was a stale story by the end of the 1960s (in the comics).
All hail robes and sandals
"Hail, Caesar!" is the name of a movie being made within this movie. It's an epic set in ancient Rome and stars "Baird Whitlock," the Clooney character. I have read such movies described as "robes and sandals." They had a lifespan like most genres of movies. The biggest Hollywood $ disaster of all time, "Cleopatra" with Elizabeth Taylor, was robes and sandals. Such was the disaster of "Cleopatra," movie budgets were affected for a rather long time. This is why we didn't see the expensive stop-motion effects in the the movie "The Lost World." Instead they filmed real-life contemporary lizards, (hopefully) made to look like large dinosaurs. I'll bet there was lots of breath-holding when "The Lost World" was first screened. The movie seemed to do OK (with Jill St. John who was a mere 19 years old).
The Cleopatra debacle was also the reason why the movie "State Fair" (the Bobby Darin version) was filmed on location rather than using Hollywood sets. I think that movie was just fine.
How good would the fictional "Hail, Caesar!" have been? We don't know. The Communist cell in the Coen brothers' movie is called "The Future." Members are mostly motion picture writers.
We see Hollywood gossip columnists portrayed in this movie. Were they directly inspired by the "Hedda Hopper" character from "Trumbo?" That movie gave way too much credit to Hopper and John Wayne in terms of pushing Hollywood's dark anti-Communist obsession. We like to see complicated issues simplified.
"Hail, Caesar!" gives us singing Western star "Hobie Doyle" played superbly by Alden Ehrenreich. We see a typical Western scene parodied. I smiled as I saw the old cliche of a bad guy over-exposing himself, standing up from behind a boulder, to get shot by the good guy.
"Hail, Caesar!" strives to get a big dose of humor from the Ehrenreich character getting transplanted into a period drama. Here the character has to answer to posh director "Laurence Laurentz" (Ralph Fiennes). There's some cheap and ineffective humor from attempts to pronounce the director's name correctly, remindful of the confusion over whether it was "The Judean People's Front" or "The People's Front of Judea" in Monty Python's "Life of Brian." It wasn't worth the trouble.
Doyle attends the premiere of one of his westerns with a date. This western had deliberate humor whereas I would suggest such a movie with a major star to be serious. Doyle is disappointed that his one singing scene is depicted in a comedic manner. But he ends up approving when he sees that the audience likes it.
I'm actually not that interested in the movie's major character, "Eddie Mannix" played by Josh Brolin. We're supposed to be amused by Mannix's efforts to cover up scandals for his studio.
The plot limps along with Doyle ending up at a Malibu beach house where that communist nest has its headquarters. Only Whitlock is there, because all the others are rowing out to that Soviet submarine. I much prefer how a Soviet submarine was presented in "The Russians Are Coming!"
Later, Clooney as Whitlock tries to explain his newfound and very shallow communist leanings to Brolin as Mannix. Here the moviemakers make clear an overriding message of "Hail, Caesar!" Left-wing thinking - call it communism to demonize it - is nothing more than a pathological curiosity. Mannix literally slaps up a supine Whitlock. Don't even think about analyzing views to the left of center. Just "do your job" and be thankful for it - in other words, make life easy for the rapacious capitalists, grease their agenda at all times, because by golly, this is America!
Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johansson have roles that would have been more interesting if we had seen them more.
The real plum from "Hail, Caesar!"
I absolutely loved how "Hail, Caesar!" had some vignette scenes that seemed pulled directly from 1950s cinema favorites. I loved the "singing sailors" especially, how the whole thing was choreographed with the bartender pulling the tablecloths from under the sailors dancing on tabletops. The cowboy movie scene was fine satire but it was too short.
Westerns of the 1950s were a great setup for satire. In fact, I think a full-length parody movie based on the making of a John Wayne-style western would be terrific. The western genre was satirized nicely in the 1960s Dean Martin movie "Texas Across the River." We don't see that movie anymore because of political correctness issues, I would suggest. In it, the Indians were parodied just like everyone else. I thought the movie was benign and funny. (Peter Graves was the cavalry leader.)
Thanks to our Morris Public Library for having "Hail, Caesar!" available to check out when it was still so fresh. My home is the only place where I watch movies anymore. "Hail, Caesar!" is worth watching. But let's remember that the Cold War was very serious business, very grim. Is that why I had to take algebra (LOL)?
Addendum: I give a tip of the hat to "Hail, Caesar!" for how it preserves an old phrase in our culture. It's uttered just once but it made an impression on me. That phrase is "bumming a cigarette." Smoking was once largely popular and cigarettes were cheap. You'd "bum" a cigarette from a friend (or stranger) in a casual way. Today, smoking is largely shunned and cigarettes are prohibitively expensive.