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Monday, 04 January 2016 13:50

Serody movie review: Trumbo

Written by  Bob Serody + Team SCPA

Posted January 4, 2016

Movie Review: Trumbo
By Bob Serody

How many people fell in love with movies like Spartacus, Roman Holiday, Johnny Got His Gun, The Hollywood Ten?  They all have one thing in common.  The screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo.  As one of the best screenwriters Hollywood ever had, and also a member of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947.  This committee was trying to establish that some people associated with Hollywood were using the motion picture industry as a propaganda tool for Communism.   

Dalton Trumbo is brilliantly depicted by Bryant Cranston.  The movie has fortunately won two Globe nominations for Cranston and Helen Mirren, who portrays gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.  This helps to counteract criticisms that the movie wallows in Hollywood history and is saturated with too many actors unsuccessfully trying to portray famous stars, such as John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Edward G. Robinson.  The timing of its release also didn’t help when it has to compete with a string of acclaimed grown-up pictures, including “Spotlight,” “Carol,” “Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Bridge of Spies.”

This movie is saved by the performances of Cranston and Mirren.  Their portrayals of the great screenwriter and influential gossip columnist immerse us in the struggles of the late forties and fifties, when the House Un-American Activities Committee ruined many lives associated with the motion picture industry with its subpoenas and subsequent blacklistings.  Not only did some victims commit suicide, these events also resulted in the transition of movies to B status to avoid contention with the Federal Government.

I personally remember how many comic books and the careers of graphic artists and writers in that industry suddenly disappeared, because their imaginative depictions of horror were ruining the lives of our children, namely mine.

It was a period of domestic terror by right-wing members of Congress who took advantage of the Red Scare.  It also revealed those who stood up to the Committee, and those who bowed to pressure to incriminate their fellow artists.

During that time, I considered Dwight Eisenhower as an effective president whose presence unified the country during the Cold War, but I felt he fell short by not publicly condemning the activities of Joe McCarthy and the HUAC.  I was also horrified when he didn’t reverse the death sentence of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of providing information on the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.  They were both executed in the electric chair.  As you can see, this movie brings back many memories.

Dalton Trumbo aligned himself with the Communist Party and became a member in 1943.  Membership was not illegal in the United States.  In the 1930s, communists were among the people who opposed the rise of Fascism and National Socialism in Europe.  They also sided with workers who were using strikes to win better working conditions.  Of course, there were those who were dupes for the Soviet Union.  When he was called before the HUAC, Trumbo refused to testify and was convicted for contempt of Congress.  In addition to serving 11 months in federal prison in 1950, he was subsequently blacklisted.
He later supported himself by writing many scripts under pseudonyms.  Eventually, as blacklisting faded, the public became aware of his screenplays.  Otto Preminger credited Trumbo for his screenplay for the 1960 film Exodus.  Kirk Douglas gave credit to Trumbo for the screenplay written for Spartacus.  In 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for writing Roman Holiday.

Why should today’s movie audiences be reacquainted with Trumbo and this portion of American history?  As I mentioned before, the film is worth seeing because of the acting abilities of Bryant Cranston and Helen Mirren, and the times that affected Trumbo’s life.  There is an even more important reason for seeing this film.

The events of the forties and fifties serve as a mirror with contemporary politics, where Trump is using fear and lies to increase hatred for Muslims and division among Americans.  From Trump’s statements, there is no doubt that as President, he would diminish our freedoms in the same way as the events that led to the HUAC.  Bernie Sanders is the exact opposite of Donald Trump.  He describes himself as a Democratic Socialist.  The reforms he wants to implement will counter Fascism and unfettered Capitalism.  

See this movie and see how history repeats itself.  

Bob Serody is a member of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.



McCarthy Era Blacklist Victims, Peace Groups, Academics, and Media:
Do not repeat mistakes of McCarthy era…

The Hollywood Blacklist

The Legacy of McCarthyism

About McCarthyism

Compiled by Team SCPA


Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2016 10:08
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