I reached the age of – older than I want to talk about yesterday, and my gift was a trip to the movies. As it so happens, The Force Awakens opened on the day of my birth, so I avoided the stress of waiting in an endless line to see that movie and went to see something more in my wheelhouse. I saw Trumbo. I am a huge Bryan Cranston fan. If something I ever write makes it to the screen or New York stage, he is the one actor I would beg the producers to pay ungodly amounts of money to head up the cast.
I’m happy to report that his portrayal of the legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo did not disappoint. As a writer, I know a little bit about the era of the Blacklist, and the great shame it brought upon this country. That people were ruined and even jailed because they were accused of being part of the Communist party is beyond disgusting. Trumbo was an unabashed member of the American Communist Party, and when he was called before Congress to testify to that effect, he instead scolded the lawmakers for violating his Constitutional rights, a move that found him in contempt of Congress and ultimately placed him behind bars.
When he was released he, of course, couldn’t find work as a screenwriter, so he went to a B-movie producer and offered to write scripts for him at a fraction of his normal rate, using assumed names to assure they would avoid scrutiny by Congress. The end result was that two of Trumbo’s screenplays written under aliases ended up winning Academy Awards.
Trumbo eventually outed himself because he saw that he was living a lie and allowing his country to be overrun by fear and propaganda. When President Kennedy publicly endorsed a film written by him, the Blacklist died.
As I said, I knew a little about this period, but I was unaware of the Hollywood side of this story. I knew the names of the bad guys in Congress, but I did not know who the scumbags and heroes in Tinseltown were. Hedda Hopper and John Wayne are painted as two of the worst people to come out of that disgrace, while Kirk Douglas was as heroic as his signature character Spartacus (a film written by Dalton Trumbo). There’s a great scene where Trumbo puts the Duke in his place, and to see Hopper’s face when her house of hate comes crumbling down is priceless.
I highly recommend Trumbo. Outside of the great performances – including one by Louis C.K. – it’s an educational film, and you can’t help but see our current torrent of fear and loathing as a repeat of the Red Scare.
On a sad note, The Cowboys staring John Wayne was one of my favorite movies. However, this movie opened my eyes to his true character. Wayne maliciously ruined lives and did so with gusto and aplomb. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch that or any of his other movies again. I don’t normally hold an artist’s political views against him or her, but his actions went beyond politics.