Director: Jay Roach
Running Time: 124 mins
Release Date: June 20th 2016 (UK)
Ever since it happened, Hollywood has had a rather tortured relationship with the Communist Witch Hunts of the 1950s. At the time the Studios largely lined up with the government and co-operated with something which most felt was wrong, but they were too afraid of what would happen to business if they didn’t. They didn’t think they could risk being seen to be defending possible communists, even if the battle against them seemed to go against American values.
As a result, stars and directors gave names to Congress, and Hollywood drew up a list of names who were blacklisted out of the industry due to their possible communist sympathies. Ever since the tide later turned against those who’d co-operated and especially those who agreed to testify in front of The House Un-American Activities Committee, Tinsel Town has never seemed certain what to do about one of its darker chapters, and has generally given it a wide berth.
However, Trumbo attempts to look at it head on, telling the story of Dalton Trumbo, who in the 1940s and early 1950s was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood. He was also a communist, which caught the attention of those who were fighting against the ‘reds’ in Hollywood and in Government. He ended up in prison for refusing to answer Congress’ questions and was then blacklisted.
Forced to work under pseudonyms, he led a cadre of other blacklisted writers who plied their trade anonymously, largely penning terrible movies. He then decided to fight back, to try and break the blacklist and get his name back on the pictures he wrote.
It is undoubtedly a fascinating story, and Trumbo certainly goes at it with gusto. Unfortunately, though it is a little uneven and never fully finds its feet. Part of its problem is that is tends to assume the audience already knows the issues surrounding the witch hunts and the blacklist, and ends up underplaying exactly what went on back then, and particularly how it didn’t happen in isolation but was merely one of the main frontlines of a very ugly domestic war. In fact, it’s not until the last five minutes where it really opens up to this and suggests the real impact this episode had across the US.
It also isn’t 100% sure where to focus, tending to reach around to various things without fully committing to anything. Trumbo is never bad, but it is often meandering and in its desire to be apolitical, often seems afraid to really hit hard, even if doing so wouldn’t really affect its supposed neutrality.
Thankfully it has a major saving grace, which is an absolute dynamite cast who more than give their all, often creating some brilliant moments. Bryan Cranston more than deserves his Best Actor Oscar nomination. He is incredible in the central role, chewing his words in spectacular fashion, so that even if what’s going on around him is rather loose, he’s riveting to watch.
He’s not the only one either, as he’s ably supported by the likes of Louis C.K. as (an oddly fictional) fellow blacklisted screenwriter, as well as Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, an actor who was Trumbo’s friend but ended up naming names in Congress. Helen Mirren has great fun as the venomous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who was at the forefront of the anti-communist fight in Hollywood, while Diane Lane is superb as Trumbo’s loyal wife, Cleo. With the likes of Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Elle Fanning also offering excellent performances.
If only the script could have matched the cast, Trumbo could have been a real contender at the Academy Awards. Instead we get a very watchable film and a surprisingly funny one, but one which doesn’t quite have the power of the true story that it’s telling.
Overall Verdict: A decent movie powered by some brilliant performances, which help to make up for a slightly soft script. It would also help to know a little about the Hollywood blacklist before you watch it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
John Duval says
Trumbo the film, I do not judge the fine actors nor their performance in this make-believe film, but I take exception that there is value or a substantive message learned from untold truth, innuendo and the manipulation of facts by the writer, producers and the director of this film.
Aside from the political debate, the movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving men that Trumbo and the King Bros were. Trumbo and the King Bros were all about the money and getting attention to that end.
Trumbo was not a hero, he was a ruthless grandstander who mislead and toyed with the media about many things and the most important among them, to me, was his plagiarism of my father’s work.
Trumbo lied about being the original author of the screenplay that the 1956 film, “The Brave One” was based.
My father, Juan Duval, was the author of the original screenplay which the film “The Brave One” was based and awarded the Oscar for “Best Original Story”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo unashamedly took advantage of it.
Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he wrote and rewrote scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. Frank King’s nephew by marriage, Robert Rich, was the fourth person listed as the author of “the Brave One” (after the King Bros removed the title page of the original script) and was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI report, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to Trumbo.
Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know (and I love the film), but Trumbo was not in Italy during the shooting where much of the script was re-written by Director William Wyler and screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wyler’s method of film making. After Hunter’s death, his son would not return the Oscar (and rightly so) when asked by the Academy so the Academy could then issue the Oscar to Trumbo decades later. In my opinion, the success of the film was due to Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s splendid performance of romance against the background of post WWII Italy.
Proof that Trumbo did not write the original screenplay and plagiarized my father’s screenplay is revealed in Trumbo’s book of letters, “Additional Dialogue”, page 270/271 wherein he explains to the King Bros that he, “ruthlessly cut all extraneous material and scenes, and kept rigidly the simple story of the boy and the bull”. Trumbo cut 50 pages from the original screenplay.
No matter, it was my father’s original story and not Trumbo’s, which was the category the Oscar was awarded. The Academy should issue a posthumous Oscar to my father, as they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.
If you read the screenplay marked #1 and the redacted letters in Trumbo’s book, “Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962” and compare them to the rewritten scripts and un-redacted letters archived at the University of Wisconsin Library, it’s obvious that Trumbo didn’t write the original screenplay, otherwise, why would he criticize and complain to the King Bros in so many letters about the original screenplay.
“The Brave One” script marked “#1” has 170 pages and is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library along with 5 other scripts. The script marked “#1” is the only script missing the Title page and author’s name.
Then there is the “first version” (133 pages) and “second version” (119 pages) of the scripts listed “Screenplay by: Arthur J. Henley”.
The last two scripts are listed “Screenplay by Merrill G. White and Harry S Franklin on the early movie posters and “Original Story by Robert L. Rich” was added to scripts later.
When the King Bros listed their nephew Robert Rich as author they had no idea that “The Brave One” would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. At first, Frank King said that there was no such person as Robert Rich and later he said that they bought a 6-page script from a Robert Rich who was away in Germany or Spain.
Robert Rich (the nephew) did not attend the Oscar awards because he turned informant for the FBI who were watching Trumbo and Rich didn’t want to be publicly humiliated when the truth came out. And Trumbo used the excuse for not being able to produce the original screenplay for The Brave One on his residence being burgled while intimating that it was the FBI who tossed his residence (FBI File Number: 100-1338754; Serial: 1118; Part: 13 of 15). The FBI did in fact toss his residence but had no interest in scripts.
White and Franklin were editors and acting as fronts for Trumbo before and after “The Brave One” movie. The King Bros did not initially intend that their nephew Robert Rich be a front for Trumbo as White and Franklin were first listed as the screenwriters on the movie posters of The Brave One. It was only after the media played up the no-show at the Oscars that the King Bros and Trumbo saw an opportunity to play the media and sell tickets (per Trumbo’s letters to the King Bros).
Juan Duval, poet, dancer, choreographer, composer and director of stage and film was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1897. He matriculated from the Monastery at Monserrat and moved to Paris in 1913 where he studied with his uncle M Duval. Juan Duval was renowned as a Classical Spanish and Apache dancer and performed in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. Juan was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.
In 1915, Juan Duval was conscripted into the French Army and fought in Tunis and Verdun, where he suffered head wounds and was partially gassed. He came to the US in 1918 and joined the US Army and was then stationed with the 50th Infantry in occupied Germany for two years before immigrating to the US where he directed live theatre and taught dancing and acting at his Studio of Spanish Dancing on Hollywood Blvd across from the Warner Bros Theatre. Juan produced Cave of Sorrow (Play); Lila (Musical Comedy); Spanish Love (Drama); Café Madrid; Spanish Revue; Night In Paris (Drama) and choreographed “One Mad Kiss” (musical) and at least one sword fighting scene with Rudolf Valentino. He directed movies in Mexico and Cuba including the 1935 highest grossing Spanish speaking film, “El Diablo Del Mar” starring Movita (Marlon Brando’s second wife).
Before former Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Bruce Davis retired, he told me that because of the documentation that I provided him, he was inclined to believe that my father wrote the original screenplay which the movie, “The Brave One” was based.
The Academy gave Trumbo an Oscar for “The Brave One” 20 years after the Oscars and posthumously gave him another Oscar for the Roman Holiday in 2011.
The Academy of Arts and Sciences should recognize my father’s original story and posthumously awarded him the Oscar for “Best Original Story” for “The Brave One”.