Trumbo is a portrait of Oscar winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Forced into exile from Hollywood by Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, Trumbo continued to write by using several different pseudonyms, under which he produced some of his widely-acclaimed and award-winning screenplays. Letter-writing became the repository of Trumbo's extraordinary talents, and these correspondences serve as a wonderfully entertaining testament to the need for self-expression, social and political involvement, and remaining fallibly human in the face of barbarism.
If, like me, you had a hazy idea of the impact of the Senator Joe McCathy-led witch-hunt against the Hollywood creative community in the late 1940s and '50s, Trumbo is a shocker.
This inventive mix of documentary and readings/performances by a stellar cast profiles Dalton Trumbo, one of the two scriptwriters jailed for contempt. His crime: Refusing to co-operate with McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities.
Trumbo was blacklisted, meaning he was no longer employed by the US studios, and his children were ostracized. After 11 months in prison, he and his family moved to Mexico with several other blacklisted writers.
Life was a terrible struggle as he was forced to write under assumed names. He endured the effects of the blacklist until 1960, when two films were released with his name in the credits: Spartacus and Exodus. But it wasn’t until 1975 that he claimed the Oscar for The Brave One, which he wrote under the pseudonym Robert Rich in 1956. He died a year later, aged 70.
This remarkable story is expertly chronicled in interviews with Trumbo, his son Christopher and various co-workers, and readings of his letters and speeches by Brian Dennehy, Joan Allen, Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Donald Sutherland, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson and Michael Douglas.
Trumbo is adapted from Christopher's 2003 play which starred Nathan Lane in the title role and was directed Peter Askin, who also directs this film, with a cameo from Lane. Clips including the famous "I Am Spartacus!" scene and excerpts from The Sandpiper, Johnny Got His Gun and The Fixer demonstrate how he infused his scripts with pleas for free speech and refusing to rat on people.
This is no eulogy; as his daughter Mitzi says, her father could be 'difficult, grumpy and cantankerous," and he was a 'terrible money-manager." He was also a man who had the courage to put principle before all else, and paid a terrible price.
And he acknowledged that the McCarthy era damaged all concerned, explaining, 'None of us – right, left, or centre – emerged from that long nightmare without sin."