Front Row at the Movies
“Trumbo” Looks at A Patriotic Commie
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Offshore trusts were a bread-and-butter business in the Bahamas when I lived there. A friend was an officer with ABC Trust, which provided desk-drawer holding companies designed to hide money. One of her clients was screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.
Because Trumbo was one of the Hollywood 10 who got blacklisted back in the 1940s when Senator Joseph McCarthy was seeing Communists under every rug -- particularly among screenwriters in Tinseltown.
One of the most respected and highest paid scribes in Hollywood, Dalton Trumbo had worked for Warner Bros., Columbia, Paramount, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, and MGM. He was a big deal.
Was he a Fellow Traveler? Admittedly yes. Known as a left-wing political activist, he aligned himself with the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Nonetheless, he wrote a number of very patriotic movies, like “A Guy Named Joe” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”
Trumbo has been called “the most talented, most famous of the blacklisted film professionals.” And because he was such a fine screenwriter, when movie producers weren’t allowed to use him anymore they hired him anyway, allowing him to write under various pseudonyms.
During the time Trumbo was blacklisted he wrote 30-some screenplays, among them such cinematic masterpieces as “Spartacus” and “Exodus.” And during that time he won two Academy Awards: One under the name of Robert Rich (“The Brave One”) while a second was fronted for him by writer Ian McLellan Hunter (“Roman Holiday”).
“Trumbo” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is his story.
Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) makes a credible Trumbo, mimicking his unique voice and mannerisms. He spot-on captures the man’s larger-than-life eccentric personality.
Diane Lane and Elle Fanning add support as Trumbo’s wife and daughter. But much of the fun is watching old Hollywood celebs come to life again: Edward G. Robinson (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott), Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow), and Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).
Movie buffs are talking about the film. “Was Trumbo’s role in stopping anti-Stalinist scripts from being produced, his role in persecuting Albert Maltz and Robert Rossen, or his role as a snitch for the FBI in the mid-40s touched upon?” asks one blogger.
Another replies, “Nothing like that was explored. They only focused on his family life and the whole process of him writing movies he wasn't credited for ... Lots of disputes over films.”
Unfortunately, “Trumbo” doesn’t offer much insight into McCarthyism and that era’s fear of Communism. This biopic is content to focus on how badly this great talent was treated. Think: “Imitation Game.”