The intriguing trailer for Hail, Caesar!, the next film by Joel and Ethan Coen, debuted online only last week, and already fans having been poring over it, looking for clues as to the content of the full-length movie, which is due to be released on February 5, 2016. The fact that some of the film’s characters are drawn from real life has been well-known for at least a year now, ever since Universal Pictures released its official plot synopsis back in October 2014. But now, thanks to that aforementioned trailer, there is actual footage to pick apart and overanalyze. And this is exactly what the sleuths at Slate have done, releasing their own annotated version of the Hail, Caesar! trailer and turning those precious two-and-a-half minutes into a miniature scavenger hunt for vintage Hollywood trivia. As the accompanying article by Forrest Wickman and Jacob T. Swinney attests, “We break it all down, as best we can.”
Right off the bat, some of the real-world references in Hail, Caesar! are not difficult to spot because the Coens haven’t disguised them one bit. Josh Brolin’s problem-solving studio boss Eddie Mannix and Tilda Swinton’s nosy gossip columnist Hedda Hopper? Both real people. After that, it’s a matter of speculation. The film’s fictional Capital Pictures, which was also the studio in 1991’s Barton Fink, looks to be a cognate of MGM, known for its plush musicals. The characters played by Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum seem to be stand-ins for, respectively, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. And George Clooney’s handsome but dim leading man could be any combination of Tony Curtis, Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, and Robert Taylor. Even Frances McDormand’s supporting character, a nervous-looking film editor, could be the fictional descendant of real-life editor Blanche Sewell. And it’s not just famous people being referenced either. The Coens also seem to be quoting some classic Hollywood films like Million Dollar Mermaid, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Quo Vadis, and Anchors Aweigh. For now, this is all one big guessing game. The truth will be known next February.