Sunday, February 28, 2016


As this is Oscar night, a much anticipated event in my household, I saw one more film with a Best Actor nominee.  This afternoon I watched Trumbo, a biographical story about a screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. He was a member of the American Communist Party in his youth and continued supporting liberal causes. In the early 1950's the U.S. Congress held hearings for the House Un-American Activities Committee. Various people who worked in Hollywood were subpoenaed - made to appear in open hearings and be grilled on their participation in Communist causes.

The accused demanded to have the Bill of Rights followed as American citizens, but their demands were ignored, so hot was the hate running for the Soviets at the time. Ten of the accused refused to answer the questions on the premise to do so would violate their rights to the freedoms guaranteed to American citizens. The ten were blacklisted and forbidden to work in their professions.  Some, like Trumbo, were jailed for "contempt of congress."

Hmmmm, if they were jailing Americans for "contempt of congress" today, there'd be lots of us incarcerated for our opinions of the do-nothings in the House and Senate who block important legislation, vote themselves raises, higher pensions, demand longer breaks (why, they don't do anything anyway?!) and take expensive "fact-finding" jaunts at the expense of lobby groups...

But I digress.  Bryan Cranston is wonderful in the title role of "Trumbo," a brilliant writer who doesn't withhold his contempt for the situation in which he finds himself.

When released from prison, he gets an idea of writing under other names, selling scripts to smaller studios and getting paid under the table.  He develops a corporation of sorts using his family to assist him.  He recruits his fellow blacklisted writers to write scripts as well.  Soon they're selling scripts for B movies to the King Brothers studios.  They make movies about aliens coming to Earth, love sick gorillas, weird creatures, etc.

Screenplays written by Trumbo, using other names, won two separate Academy Awards for best scripts, one was for Roman Holiday, a big-budget film which starred a young Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  The other was for The Brave One produced by the King Brothers. In both cases, he could not attend the ceremonies.  In one case he didn't get the statue until twenty years later.

Kirk Douglas came to him to rewrite the script for Spartacus and then Otto Preminger brought the script for Exodus to him, both big budget prestigious pictures in the late 1950s.

Cranston, whose talent is well-documented with previous awards, is a strong contender for the Oscar tonight. He was magnificent as the quirky, stubborn, chain-smoking, hard drinking, amphetamine popping genius.

Also notable in the cast is Diane Lane as his wife, who stuck by him through the ordeals, and never remarried after his death in 1976.

John Goodman plays the head of King Brothers studio, as a brash man, who chases away the Hollywood rep for the House Un-American Committee who comes to demand the studio quit using Trumbo to write his scripts, with a baseball bat and plenty of swings.

Dean O'Gorman plays Kirk Douglas and makes a strong impression in the role.

Louis CK plays a good friend of Trumbo, Arlen Hird, who is also a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking author on the blacklist.  This was a surprising turn for him.  The character is tragic and he plays him with delicate pathos which will make you weep.

Mark Stuhlberg plays Edward G. Robinson, who funds the legal costs for his friends by selling a Monet from his collection, only to turn them all in to save his career later.

Helen Mirren plays obnoxious gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, who led the Hollywood fight to get all the "Commies" out of the business.  At one time, she had the largest circulation of any Hollywood columnist.  As such she wielded great power in Tinseltown. Mirren was appropriately bitchy in the role.  Her final scene when she knows she's lost, is equally impressive.  But hey, it's Helen Mirren...

The film was based on real events.  Kirk Douglas insisted giving Trumbo screen credit for writing the script for Spartacus, which broke the blacklist when Otto Preminger followed suit for his film, Exodus.  One of my favorite scenes was when JFK was seen coming out of a theater having just watched Spartacus.  When asked what he thought about the movie if it was filled with Communist influence, he said it was a great picture which he enjoyed...Too bad, Ms. Hopper...

Throughout the picture Bryan Cranston shines...Trumbo was a character, one who stuck to his ideals and his beloved craft.

Bryan Cranston may win his own Oscar tonight.  He deserves one for this role.

Until next time...

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