1994 was a very strong year for movies. Forrest Gump set the bar for technical innovation and won a bunch of Oscars. Pulp Fiction mainstreamed indie film, revived John Travolta’s career, and made Quentin Tarantino a household name. The Shawshank Redemption ensured that TNT’s Saturday programming was set until the end of time. And Anthony Michael Hall launched his directing career with Hail Caesar. Yep, all of these things had an equal impact on cinema, and we continue to celebrate all of them today.
Prior to starting this website, I created and co-hosted a yearlong podcast devoted to the year 1994. Every month, we covered all of the US movie releases that were big enough to warrant mention on lists. Strangely enough, Hail Caesar never came up, and I didn’t even know it existed until a few weeks ago. It turns out it didn’t make any release lists because it was straight to video, and it also turns out that I didn’t know it existed because there’s no compelling reason to. I know this now because I watched Hail Caesar, and now I’m going to tell you about it.
Before we get into the plot, I want to start by noting that this screenplay is based upon a Mark Twain short story. It’s not clear which short story because it isn’t named, and nobody online seems to know or care enough to find out. I’d like to think that this is noted in this manner in the opening credits because the producers were legally required to identify the source material, but did not want to go into specifics for fear that somebody might actually make comparisons between the two.
On to the cast. What a year 1994 was for Samuel L. Jackson! He played an instantly iconic character in Pulp Fiction, a performance that he will be remembered for the rest of his life and beyond. He also played a mailman who gets attacked by a dog in this movie, who then becomes a water department employee, who also gets attacked by a dog. And when he appears a ripped off version of the Seinfeld soundtrack plays. I only hope that when Samuel L. passes, hopefully far, far in the future, this pops up in his Oscar tribute right between Senor Love Daddy and Jules. Robert Downey Jr. pops up in a cameo, because he and Anthony Michael Hall were buddies and he was much more available when he was on drugs. Judd Nelson does too, also in an inessential role (but he still made the movie poster). Rounding out the cast is Frank Gorshin, TV’s Riddler, some soap actor who kind of looks like Malcolm McDowell, some TV actor who appeared in Murder One and the Crow Syfy Channel show, some TV actor who appeared in Beverly Hills 90210 and a Pulp Fiction parody called Plump Fiction that unfortunately didn’t come out until 1997 so he couldn’t discuss it with Samuel L. Jackson, some TV actor who also did the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers rip-off Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills in 1994, a Russian guy who plays Russian guys in movies, and of course Anthony Michael Hall as title character Julius Caesar McMurty.
You’ve waited long enough; it’s plot time! Anthony Michael Hall has a band called Hail Caesar. He and his band mates, the Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighter and the Russian guy, live together in a house. We find out that Anthony’s name is Julius Caesar because his parents were archaeologists (sure), and we also find out via a newspaper clipping on the wall of his house that they were devoured by cannibals. This is not commented on. Thankfully both of my parents are still living, but if they weren’t, I probably wouldn’t hang up a newspaper clipping depicting their method of death. I suppose we all grieve in our own way. Julus flunks out of college after being reminded via letter that he was a student, so he decides they will do the band full-time and become famous.
I’m going to go fast here because I’m even boring myself. Julius has a girlfriend who is the daughter of a rich pencil eraser manufacturer. Her name is Buffer. That’s not a real name that anybody has. Dad doesn’t like Julius, so he makes a bet that if Julius can make $100,000 in six months he can continue dating the man’s daughter. If this made any logical sense it would be offensive, but it doesn’t, so whatever. Also it becomes immediately clear that Buffer doesn’t particularly care about Julius or the bet when she starts sleeping with dad’s handsome squash partner. Julius has a dog named Chaos that attacks Samuel L. Jackson. Frank Gorshin is the manager of the pencil eraser factory until he finds out about a plan to sabotage the factory and blame an environmental group (“Big Pink”), at which point he is murdered and set on fire. Julius become the manager of the factory. Julius does a JFK impression. Julius is framed for blowing up the factory and goes to jail. Julius claims in jail to have killed Kennedy and then talks in jive. Somewhere in there Julius meets with a drugged up music agent and/or record executive (he’s described as both) played by a drugged up Robert Downey Jr. who turns out to actually be a drugged up mailroom clerk. Julius gets bailed out of jail by his bandmate the Alien Fighter from Beverly Hills because SURPRISE she loves him. Uhh….it turns out a Venus de Milo in the house is real and worth a fortune, Buffer and dad find out and try to reconcile with Julius, the band gets a contract thanks to the now drugged up actual agent/record executive Robert Downey Jr. and Julius and Alien Fighter live happily ever after. The DVD started skipping a lot in the last 8 minutes but that’s what I was able to make out.
If you thought that Anthony Michael Hall speaking in jive in The Breakfast Club was hilarious, please reconsider! But also know that you will love him speaking jive in jail! It’s super racist and unnecessary, but it also leads to a black inmate taking his side over another black inmate, because this is very poorly written! I bet that’s what happened in the unnamed Mark Twain story! Anthony Michael Hall does a lot of accents. He also looks like a proto-Matthew Lillard, with spiky bleached hair. Also, in addition to starring and directing, Anthony Michael Hall wrote all of the songs that his band poorly pretends to perform in the movie.
In conclusion, this is a movie that exists.