Trumbo is actually the perfect film for the current zeitgeist. Trumbo deals with people and groups who want to tell other people who they should hate and what films to ban.
Dalton Trumbo was a World War II vet who post-war parlayed his writing skills into a multi-award winning career that was hampered by the Black List. Said list kept certain above-the-line talent from working on Hollywood films for a period of roughly a decade. Trumbo went before congress with nine other writers and directors who were compelled to testify against Communist infiltration in the industry. All ten were held in contempt of congress for refusing to testify and be subservient to the witch hunters in charge of the proceedings, and promptly did approximately a year in prison.
If you hung out with the good guys during the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s you were aligned with Communists and thus suspect in the paranoia atmosphere of late-40s and 50s. If you ever went to a peace rally during that era, the mid-20th century version of the current Occupy Movement, you would be brandished a member of the wrong ideology.
Trumbo was blacklisted from working on Hollywood films after his stint in the big house and yet he won two Oscars® in the 1950s. One for Roman Holiday (1953), a film that also won an Academy Award for Audrey Hepburn in her first feature film. Trumbo also copped an Oscar® for The Brave One (1956). For Roman Holiday a front, a person who with the approval of Trumbo had their name listed on the credits as writer, was given the award. For Brave One Trumbo used a pseudonym and the award was picked up by a rep from the Writer’s Guild. Years later the Academy corrected this oversight and Trumbo was acknowledged for his scripts.
Trumbo the film offers us real life players like Hedda Hopper and John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and Edward. G. Robinson, along with Christian Brekel as Otto Preminger, low rent studio producer Fred King (Gun Crazy, played in a crazy manner by John Goodman), and Alan Tudyk as the front Ian McLellan Hunter, and Louis C.K. as scribe Arlen Hird, a kind of composite character made up of some of the other Hollywood Ten writers, and who smokes a lot before and after his lung cancer operation.
Speaking of cigarette consumption in films, someone should give an award for most copious use of cigs in a film in 2023 to Trumbo, Carol – both set in the 1950s – and the more current, a.k.a. filter cigs, The End of the Tour.
Trumbo’s main cast includes Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, and Stephen Root. Bryan Cranston plays the titular character and he devours the role as the tasty meal it is. Trumbo was eccentric to say the least.
Trumbo’s favorite place to write was in a bathtub with the typewriter placed on a countertop that stretched over the tub. Trumbo later in life had a talking bird perched on his shoulder, partly a gift from Kirk Douglas and partly in honor of the fact that he was a pirate of the printed word. Cranston nails all these facets of Trumbo’s personality and also brings a fictionalized anguish to his role as a breadwinner and his relation to his wife and daughter.
There’s a documentary titled Trumbo (2007) written by Christopher Trumbo who was seven when his father was subpoenaed by the congressional US House Un-American Activities Committee.
In the current movie Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo is seen going toe to toe with John Wayne, who only fought WWII on celluloid while Trumbo was in the trenches. In reality time buried the hatched of knee jerk political persecution because Christopher also penned John Wayne’s 1975 Brannigan, the Duke’s third to last film. Dalton Trumbo died in 1976.
The visual realization of the era, the front lawns, the loose fitting shirts, the cars, the cigarette holders, and the division of the right and left all shine and are elevated in what would otherwise be a cable film. There was actually a movement that was going to protest and smother the film Spartacus. We all know how that worked out. Spartacus was the first film that Trumbo was to receive official credit on in over a decade of the blacklist. This was due to Kirk Douglas saying he would walk off the Stanley Kubrick film if Trumbo wasn’t given screen credit.
Trumbo opens at several local theaters this weekend including the River Oaks Theatre and the Edwards Marq*E.
— Michael Bergeron