Donald Trumbo is a screenwriter whose most well known novel I reviewed on the blog a few weeks ago, and who is now synonymous with the Hollywood Ten; movie industry professionals blacklisted for refusing to answer questions in Congress related to their support of communism.
It’s a shame that the blacklist is what he’s most known for as it overshadows a huge talent, as evidenced by his prolific output including screenplays, essays, novels and non-fiction pieces. When blacklisted he wrote Roman Holiday and submitted it under a friend’s name and when the screenplay won the Academy Award, Trumbo watched the ceremony with his family at home, unable to take credit for his work. The same thing happened with his screenplay for The Brave One and it was only when he was publicly credited for his scripts for Spartacus and Exodus, released in the same year, that the blacklist crumbled.
Trumbo was a deeply moral and honourable man, which at times made him a nightmare for his family to live with. He questioned and challenged friends and enemies, didn’t shy away from conflict, and lived by his own code no matter what the cost. He was prepared to sacrifice everything for his beliefs, including an eleven-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress, and he expected his family to support him without question.
In a way, it seems ridiculous that a group of artists could have been witch-hunted, unable to make a living in a country where the right to free speech has been enshrined in the constitution since 1791. But take a minute and imagine Donald Trump as President of the United States and perhaps it doesn’t seem quite so implausible.
There are many things to admire about Trumbo: the period perfect costume and set design, the cinematography, and the performances above all. Diane Lane who plays Trumbo’s wife Cleo is always a pleasure to watch, and Helen Mirren is brilliant as Hedda Hopper, a racist bigoted gossip columnist, much more powerful than the TMZs and Enquirers of today as she had exclusive access to Hollywood’s elite. Bryan Cranston is magnificent as Trumbo, making him admirable, sympathetic and infuriating all at the same time. Having now seen all the performances in the category for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Cranston would have been my pick for his performance.