Film Review by Kam Williams
Reverential Biopic Restores Reputation of Blacklisted Scriptwriter
Scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) was at the height of his career when subpoenaed in 1947 to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigating the spread of Communist propaganda by Hollywood. The celebrated, Academy Award-nominee (for Kitty Foyle) had registered a blip on Congress’ radar because of his outspoken support of the party and progressive political ideas like the right of workers to unionize.
When he refused to testify before the Committee, he was held in contempt and summarily shipped off to a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky. He was finally released after languishing almost a year behind bars, but stilll found himself blacklisted and booted from the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
So, the only way the prolific Trumbo was able to work in the film industry again was by submitting screenplays to studios under a variety of pseudonyms, such as Sally Stubblefield, Millard Kaufman, Guy Endore, Ben Perry and Robert Rich. His scripts for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956) did land Oscars, though he could neither appear to accept the awards nor even publicly acknowledge authorship.
Eventually, the Red Scare ended and Trumbo’s membership in the WGA was reinstated, but not before exacting a toll on his personal and professional life. That shameful bullying in the name of patriotism is the subject of Trumbo, a reverential biopic directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers trilogy). The movie stars Bryan Cranston as the beleaguered title character as well as a talented supporting cast featuring Diane Lane, John Goodman, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning and Dame Helen Mirren.
The aim of the revisionist production is to restore Trumbo’s reputation posthumously by poking fun at HUAC and other self-righteous bullies who had taken delight in ruining him, particularly John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren). While this approach is apt to appeal to audiences with a decidedly leftist agenda, one can’t help but think that it’s easy with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight to dismiss former Cold War patriots as delusional paranoids.
A timely reminder of our First Amendment rights which simultaneously settles the score in favor of a disgraced Freedom of Speech proponent.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual references.
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: Bleecker Street Media