As first tentatively reported in December, Joel and Ethan Coen’s next movie will indeed be Hail Caesar—but in keeping with the usual parsing of speculation and sketchy detail that goes into reporting every new Coen brothers’ project, the plot is very different than what we expected. Initially teased as a “sandal drama” set in ancient Rome, then a movie about a 1920s matinee idol making a film about ancient Rome, Deadline now says Hail Caesar is actually about the faddishly popular archetype of a “fixer” in 1950s Hollywood, a guy who works to clean up the scandals of the stars within the studio system. It’s territory that’s right within the Coens’ wheelhouse, recalling both the Hollywood underbelly of Barton Fink, and the criminal behavior—and the attempts to undo the damage of that criminal behavior—that runs through so many of their movies.
Deadline notes that the script’s central character is named “Eddie Mannix,” meaning it could very possibly be a biopic about the actual Eddie Mannix, a teenaged hood turned bouncer turned MGM executive, where he was actually known as “The Fixer.” As dramatized in the movie Hollywoodland (where he was played by the late Bob Hoskins), Mannix was famously linked to the death of Superman actor George Reeves—a death that was officially ruled a suicide, but surrounded in suspicion ever since, due to Mannix’s reputation for gangster tactics and the fact that Reeves was having an affair with his wife.
Still, suggesting that perhaps this is not a straight biopic is the fact that the film is described as a comedy, and the Coens have previously talked about Hail Caesar—which may or may not star George Clooney—as completing their “Numbskull Trilogy,” alongside O Brother Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty. And while the Coens certainly have a dark sense of humor, making a movie about a guy who maybe murdered an actor (and has plenty of tawdry rumors about cover-ups and violent domestic abuse besides) a “Numbskull” comedy may be pushing it, even for them. But no doubt these details are subject to change also.