Hail, Caesar! part 5
After Eddie collects the $100,000 in ransom, before he can make it back to his office he runs into Thora Thacker’s identical twin sister Thessaly, who, like her sister, intends to run a story on Baird Whitlock, this one about his current disappearance. Eddie asks both sisters “What kind of a name is _____?” Well, “Thora” is, of course, a Scandinavian name, the female version of Thor. “Thessaly,” on the other hand, is a city in Greece. Both civilizations, and names, predate Christianity. Perhaps the Thacker sisters (“Thacker” being a corruption of “Thatcher,” or “the guy who builds roofs” in Old English, also derived from the Norman) are meant to be reactionaries, students of “the old ways,” predating even Caesar’s Rome, who are resistant to both Mr. Schenck’s Capitol and to the message of Jesus.
For the third time in a day, Eddie is contacted by “the future.” Once by Cuddahy from Lockheed, who promises the end of the world, and twice now by the communist screenwriters, who have his movie star. Keep in mind, this is a narrative where the only thing no one questions is that Baird Whitlock is a movie star.
He gets to the phone too late to take the call, and, while he’s waiting for them to call back, has a conversation with Hobie about Merrily We Dance. And we see that Hobie isn’t a monosyllabic idiot; far from it, he’s a charming and easy talker, it’s just the words of the script that don’t fit in his mouth. Again, the attitude he puts forth is genial, respectful and can-do. If he feels frightened by or condescended to or put on the spot by his director Laurence Laurentz, he doesn’t show it.
Eddie’s conversation with Hobie (which he barely pays attention to as he tries to close his briefcase stuffed with cash) is interrupted by Eddie’s wife calling. It seems that Eddie’s son is playing a position on his Little League team which which he is uncomfortable, and he wants his father to intervene on his behalf. The dramatic weight given to this conversation, which goes by super-fast, is interesting; Eddie treats his son’s baseball game with more gravity than he does his lunch with Lockheed. He carefully, seriously weighs the value of his son’s comfort with the team’s needs and his son’s earlier commitments. Eddie isn’t just a problem-solver; it seems to be an addiction for him. He has to solve problems, he’s compelled to. Sneaking cigarettes and paying off kidnappers are problems of equal weight to him. Actually, that’s not true — sneaking cigarettes is a weightier problem than paying off kidnappers.
Eddie, here at the mid-point of the narrative, reaches a small crisis. He has no one to confide in; everyone in his life is a problem to be solved. In his moment of frustration, he reaches out to Hobie and tells him a story. The story, as it happens, is true, and short. One sentence: “Baird Whitlock has been kidnapped.” Hobie immediately grasps the importance of the moment, and says “This is bad for movie stars everywhere.” Movie stars being the only thing everyone takes seriously in this world of “make-believe.”
Hobie, suddenly becoming a detective, advises Eddie to “look at the extrees.” The extras, or, as they’re called now, “background performers,” have nothing invested in the movie they’re appearing in. They’re here one day and gone the next. Hobie is making a distinction between the hard-working day-to-day staff of a motion picture, the team of craftsmen, artisans, technicians and assistants who make the studio work (whom we see doing their work everywhere in the movie, from the guy whose job it is to remove DeAnna’s “fish ass” to Peanut, the kid who bikes around the studio delivering messages), and the people for whom a day on a movie is just a transient job. This, of course, is solid detective work, and both creates a connection between Eddie and Hobie, the right hand of capital and the little guy, and, we will see, raises Hobie from clown to narrative principal. Eddie makes the connection concrete by asking Hobie for his belt to keep the case of money closed. (Odd that Eddie has a belt for his tuxedo, but perhaps that is show business.)