As an avid screenwriter I was at first very surprised that I never heard of Dalton Trumbo before because he could be just about the most awarded and prolific screenwriter in the history of Hollywood. Unfortunately for him his political views made his screenwriting career far more difficult than it should have been and his unique talent for writing great movies like “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus” came towards the end of a very dark period where he was blacklisted like so many others in Hollywood. During this blacklisting period, Trumbo had to use other writers names or make up names so that his name was not credited with the movie to avoid the boycotting of the movies or lawsuits. Trumbo also worked for very minimal wages for a number of years writing scripts or fixing bad scripts for very low budget producers. One of the great things about historical movies like this is that you learn about incidents and people and history that you would never have known about otherwise. We all knew how blacklisting was in the 1950’s but after watching this movie you have a greater appreciation for how bad it was for so many people and how many lives were ruined by having their livelihood taken away by something so unjust and unfair.
Several people were jailed for believing in Communism during this blacklisting era including Dalton Trumbo and several of his friends, one friend was played very well by Louis CK , which eventually dies of lung cancer. Its depressing to realize that due to the fear of Russia, Communism and the Cold War that the United States Constitution and more specifically freedom of speech was completely forgotten in order to persecute, jail and ruin the lives of so many good people.
What most people also did not know is that the actor Edward G. Robinson was involved with the so called Hollywood 10 and he betrayed all of them them in the end to save his own career and avoid jail time. Another part of history was the verve that reporters and gossip columnists at the time like Hedda Hopper showed in their zeal to go after Communists and ruin their lives and careers, almost as if she enjoyed destroying other people.
Over time the witch hunt of the McCarthy era waned and eventually actors like Kirk Douglass and directors like Otto Preminger slowly began to have the courage to not only re-hire great writes like Dalton Trumbo but even publish their names as the screenwriters of their movies.
There are many great scenes and revelations in this movie, including several scenes in this movie involving John Wayne going after Communists and trying to ban them from Hollywood and another scene where Trumbo calls out Wayne asking him, “so where did you serve during World War 2”. It was also interesting to see that over time Trumbo adopted to the habit of writing his screenplays in the bathtub and due to the stress of much less money and incredible overwork he tended to ignore his family which caused great conflict with them, most especially his older daughter. Diane Lane had a small role in this movie as Dalton Trumbo’s wife and seems somewhat miscast int his role but Brian Cranston was excellent in his performance and Trumbo and will very likely receive an Academy Award nomination for his role as Donald Trumbo. John Goodman is also very good in this movie as the producer of bad movies and employed Trumbo many times to provide him with an income during this period when he was blacklisted.
One huge flaw but typical problem with this movie is the constant and never ending smoking in almost every scene. The good thing about this is at least they show that one of Dalton’s close writer friends died of lung cancer, so at least they try to show the other side of that disgusting coin. One day perhaps, all smoking will be banned from movies but it sure seems that we are all a long way from that day.
I highly recommend the movie Trumbo and predict it will be nominated for a best picture Oscar.