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.

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The tale of a Hollywood screenwriter for whom life became a horror movie.

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."

 

Watch 'Trumbo'

Friday 17 April, 11:15pm on SBS (streaming at SBS On Demand after broadcast)

M
USA, 2015
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Louis C.K.
What's it about?
In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. The film recounts how Dalton (played by (Cranston, in an Oscar-nominated performance) used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

Details

PG
1 hour 36 min
Wed, 02/04/2009 - 11

Genres