“Trumbo” directed by Jay Roach, is a cinematic triumph that details that period of time in Hollywood in the early 1940’s when many in the film industry were considered Communists and were profiled and blacklisted. Dalton Trumbo was one of the esteemed and popular Hollywood screen writers who was blacklisted and imprisoned. He had joined the Communist Party in 1943 when the USA and USSR were allies.
Bryan Cranston does an excellent job in realizing the dapper and outspoken Dalton Trumbo; Diane Lane is charming as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo; John Goodman is perfect as producer, Frank King who hires Trumbo to crank out cheesy films after Trumbo was blacklisted; Helen Mirren is convincing as the spiteful, hateful, juicy gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper; Elle Fanning is Trumbo’s daughter, Nikola; and one marvelous actor is Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson. He was very convincing as one caught in the middle of wanting to support his friends, but later becomes the informant who testifies against his friends to safeguard his own career. He had Robinson’s down turned, dour mouth that was his signature. Some of the performances were stereotypical. But, ,when you have the likes of John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, who were stars, it’s hard not to resort to stereotypes. They were larger than life public figures. Those are hard shoes to fill.
This film, based on the book, “Dalton Trumbo” by Bruce Cook with the screenplay by John Mac Namara gives a nostalgic look back into the heyday of Hollywood as it became tarnished by the accusations of Communism and the blacklisting of some of Hollywood’s elite. Cinematographer, Jim Denault captured the look and feel of old Hollywood as did costume designer, Daniel Orlandi. Hopper’s hats were outlandish and fantastically fun.
We see Trumbo as an idealistic Hollywood screenwriter who has backed the plight of other union members. He feels those behind the scenes, the set designers, etc. should get higher pay. Trumbo was a very successful screenwriter and devoted husband and father. What was he guilty of? He had the idea of sharing the wealth. His political beliefs got him and his friends labeled as Communists. Trumbo fought unsuccessfully to use the First Amendment before the U. S. House Committee on Un American Activities. He was convicted of the crime of “contempt of Congress” when he refused to answer the Committee’s questions. He lost as did his friends and was sentenced to prison. One fact was ironic. In prison, he meets J. Parnell Thomas,(James DuMont), the former chair of that Committee who is serving time for income tax evasion. The Congressman says, “We’re in the same boat.” Trumbo answers, “Except that you committed a crime and I didn’t.”
One of the leading accusers was Hedda Hopper who went after Trumbo and others in her column with a vengeance. Mirren shows the very vindictive and poisonous nature of Hopper. Hopper had been an actress and did not achieve success. We see her, long in the tooth, wielding a poison pen. Her son is in the Navy for the United States, so she feels she has a vendetta to nail each and everyone with different political beliefs a Commie. She is out to ruin all of those in Hollywood who have Communistic leanings whether actors, or writers. She will ferret them all out. Mirren showed us what a vengeful zealot Hedda Hopper was. She even threatened to bring down studio head Louis B. Mayer, (Richard Portnow). She was a mean spirited bigot.
John Goodman as Frank King, has a marvelous scene in which he almost comes to blows and throws an agent out of his office. King will not sell out his low budget “cash cow” in Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo started an assembly-line of writers who literally cranked out formula B and C movies of every genre for King Films. Trumbo was working and made sure his writer friends worked.
Stuhlbarg plays one of my favorite character actors from long ago, Edward G. Robinson and he does so with aplomb. Robinson was a supporter of Trumbo and the others and even held meetings in his home. He had donated one of his priceless art works to fund the group. But, when his own career is going to be sidelined by his associations with his friends, Robinson becomes an informant as he gives the names of his friends involved in what was then called Communism. In doing that act, he became a turncoat and lost years of deep friendships. Dean O Gorman bore a resemblance to Kirk Douglas but not quite enough. Too bad Michael Douglas was too old to play the role. Douglas put his career on the line and demanded that his studio put the name of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on the famed film, “Spartacus.” It became the issue if Trumbo’s name would not be credited as the writer, Douglas was going to back out of the film and most of the footage had already been shot. Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) also came to Trumbo’s rescue with unflinching support and demanded Trumbo’s name be on the credits as the screenwriter of “Exodus.” Trumbo had written Roman Holiday” starring Audrey Hepburn but did not get the screen credit until 2011, nearly sixty years after he had written the screenplay. That film and “The Brave One” both won Academy Awards but Trumbo’s had not been given credit. They had a frontman’s name.
“Trumbo” gives us an account of those Hollywood Blacklist days. I found it fascinating and entertaining. Check your theater guild to see where “Trumbo” is playing.