Reds under tinsel town beds. Trumbo records the life’s work of a brilliant screen-writer blacklisted for ‘un-American activities’ in the McCarthyite witch hunts of the late 1940s. Trumbo used words, wit and subterfuge to expose the absurdity of his critics’ claims and so finally gain credit for his screen-plays, including ‘Spartacus’, ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Exodus’.
Jay Roach | USA | 2015 | 124 mins | 15
“Everybody now seems to be talking about democracy. I don’t understand this. As I think of it, democracy isn’t like a Sunday suit to be brought out and worn only for parades. It’s the kind of a life a decent man leads, it’s something to live for and to die for.” – Dalton Trumbo.
One of Hollywood’s most gifted screen-writers, Dalton Trumbo joined the Communist Party when the United States was in war-time alliance with the Soviet Union. He made no secret of his affiliations, and in 1947 he became one or the so-called Hollywood 10, the group of left-inclined writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Committee for un-American Activities and found themselves convicted of ‘contempt of Congress’ and black-listed by Hollywood itself from all kinds of film production. Trumbo himself served almost a year in prison. To pay the bills, members of the group went underground for a decade, writing hack-work under pseudonyms and even letting friends or colleagues take the credit, until America’s pathological fear of ‘The Red Menace’ blew over.
Trumbo’s difficulties in surviving as a writer under the Blacklist are at the heart of the film. His long-suffering and resourceful wife (beautifully played by Diana Lane) and their three school-aged kids have to deal with an existence based on a complex set of deceptions as well as coping with the irascibility of a brilliant but highly-strung writer who did most of his composing in the bath, swilling booze and smoking. But there is much to enjoy for the modern audience in this recreation of the 1950s, particularly Bryan Cranston’s full-on and Oscar-nominated portrayal of Trumbo. Watch out for the cameo roles of Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Edward G.Robinson and Otto Preminger and really enjoy the poisonous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who fanned the red-scare flames. Some of the characters come uncomfortably close to caricature, but in the present award season it’s surely right to acknowledge the achievement of Trumbo, writer of (among many other celebrated films) – Spartacus, Exodus, Roman Holiday, The way We Were, Papillon and one of this writer’s favourites, Lonely are the Brave.
Weighted vote 91.8%