At first look, the character of Edward Mannix, studio executive, appears to be a man suffering from a case of scrupulosity when he enters a darkened confessional, the priest slides the shutter back and asks him how long it has been since his last confession, and he tells the priest, “3-4 hours” or “34 hours”; either way, a relatively short amount of time, by anyone’s standards. He holds a rosary looped around his hand, some visual overkill on the part of filmmakers worried that you, the audience, might not “get” the Catholic context even though they opened with a shot of a large, ornate over-the-altar crucifix in an unlighted church, and panned to the confessional.
Mannix considers lying to his wife (seen only briefly and as rather one-dimensional) to be a sin sufficiently serious to bring to the confessional, especially since it concerns his efforts to quit smoking, in which relapses are considered evidence of moral failure (this movie being set in the 1950s). Since the scene following the confessional scene during which the priest complains of it being late is still dark, and it is said to be 5 a.m., it is safe to assume that Mannix woke up a priest in the wee hours, unless there is some priest(s) somewhere who routinely offer to hear confessions at odd hours.
Though Mannix gives the outward appearance of being a “regular guy”, (affecting the smoking and drinking habits of his time are accessories to that), he carefully avoids many of the major sins commonly committed by people of his class (his trailing secretary is all business and efficiency, and only _works_ for him). He is also able to avoid what the church calls “giving scandal” in his work; the studio for which he works is also making movies which are subject to approval by the “Catholic Legion of Decency”. The studio’s big project of the moment (as befits the times) is a major motion picture set in Biblical times, but from the point of view of a Roman soldier who encounters Jesus, hence the title, “Hail Caesar!”
Mannix applies the additional safeguard of convening an ecumenical board (consisting of a priest, a rabbi, a Greek Orthodox patriarch, and a “protestant padre”) to review and advise on the portrayal of Jesus in this film and to ensure a movie acceptable to the major faiths then acknowledged. (He left out Islam, Wicca, and had only one variety of Protestantism represented.) The movie surrounding the movies within contains a great deal of Judeo-Christian symbolism and references, for those who have “eyes to see it and ears to hear it“.
However, when dealing with actors, reporters, and their ilk, Mannix must often try to apply damage control to try to bring or to rationalize their conduct within the prevailing morals of society (closer to those of Catholicism than the more secularized society of today) and the needs of the studio. He is a finder of loopholes and a manager of “spin” for his sinful subordinates, in many cases confabulating stories to cover up “benders” and worse by his actors, which involves mental reservations and deceptive image-making if not outright lying (such as the elaborate plan he hatched to cover up the fact that one of his starlets was having a child out of wedlock by having her lie low when she would start to show, surrender the baby for adoption, and later formally adopt the child with accompanying publicity). Besides the difficult moral issues involved in protecting the public image of the studio, there is also physical and mental hardship involved in the sort of babysitting and cleaning up after actors that he does. And he has to contend with plots from blacklisted Communist writers intent on revenge, and homosexuals who are allied with the former besides having their own personal agendas. No wonder he is tempted when he meets with someone who offers him an executive position with Lockheed (planes don’t get kidnapped by Communists, get pregnant out of turn, or have dialogue problems).
Mannix is seen to go to confession at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the movie, in spite of a busy schedule and tight scheduling. It is unknown to the viewer whether the priest(s) are known to him or not. Maybe he’s on familiar terms with several different priests at several different churches, because he is seen to go to confession on one occasion when it is a dark and stormy night, and at another time, in the middle of a work day, before which he tells his secretary that he has a “personal errand”. Though in many cases the sins he confesses are venial (in the eyes of the audience), he is clearly using his time in the confessional for moral growth. Advice from the priest is an adjunct for his own conscience, the setting of confession a sounding board for the choices he must make.
Though he doesn’t consider the “fixing” of actors’ problems that he does for the sake of good publicity to be matter for the confessional, in spite of the fact it is often predicated on deception of the public, (perhaps he considers the “spin control” he applies to his actors’ lives as just another part of the theatrical realm) his own personal conduct as it directly affects others and his life choices are discussed. In the penultimate scene, after he makes his confession and receives his penance, he asks the priest for advice on whether taking “an easy job” that is “not a bad job” is a morally right thing to do when the other choice is a hard job, “so hard I’m not sure I can keep doing it”. The priest, in effect, tells him to follow his own conscience, instead of accepting the priest’s judgment, perhaps because Mannix has difficulty explaining the full extent of his situation to the priest, (although the priest must surely have some inkling, given that one of the sins he confessed was having “struck a movie star in anger”). He assures Mannix that, “the inner voice that tells you what’s right…that comes from God, my son”. In the next scene, Mannix is shown confidently striding through the studio grounds, barking orders to his secretary, and back at his role of fixer.