Actor Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” Fame Shines in the New Film: “Trumbo”
Very rarely does a controversial subject like the Hollywood black-listing of ten prominent screen writers/directors make for an interesting, compelling movie. However, “Trumbo”, a film revolving around the famous screenwriter who was blacklisted for having been a member of the Communist Party during the late 1940’s, is an interesting small tour de force. New generations of film students may not have learned about the period of time in America which was haunted by the ubiquitous, “Red Scare” [communists were everywhere]. This 1950’s witch hunt run by congress ruined thousands of lives in and out of Hollywood.
During this time, friendships and business alliances were compromised as actor and directors named friends and colleagues who were members of the Communist Party. The picture neither condones nor condemns anyone. It simply depicts, in very accurate detail, the hypocrisy and self-preservation instincts that were rampant during the Red Scare.
The character of Dalton Trumbo is brilliantly portrayed by Cranston as a witty, self-assured American whose compulsion is to break the black list. Helen Merrin plays Hedda Hopper, a self-aggrandizing gossip columnist/ shrew, whose life’s purpose was to intimidate everyone who did not agree with her point of view. The movie shows that some of the true heroes/heroines of that terrible period were the following: Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck, and the King Brothers[James Goodman].
At some other time, I can venture into more detail as to what really happened in the HUAC Committee and how pathetic they were during the 1950’s. For the present, I will note some salient points:
▪ 1934-1937: Congressman Samuel Dickstein [D-NY] received $1250 per month from the NKVD [precursor to the KGB].
▪ Bertolt Brecht, the German writer was a “deep mole” for the Soviet GRU[military intelligence]; and he was lauded by the HUAC as a ‘good person’. Subsequently, Brecht left the USA to work in East Germany.
▪ J. Parnell Thomas [R-NJ] was imprisoned with Trumbo for tax evasion after haranguing him at HUAC.
▪ Lucy Ball admitted outright to HUAC that she had been a Communist. She then dared HUAC to do something about it. Instead, HUAC backed off. They realized that her 1950’s TV show “I Love Lucy’ had over twenty million American viewers. HUAC was too frightened to antagonize her audience. So they backed off.
▪ In contrast, Elia Kazan, the Greek-born film director, named names when he was in front of HUAC. He justified his ‘snitching’ in the now classic film, “On The Waterfront” with Marlon Brando.
As fear of terrorism spreads throughout the world, the film “Trumbo” may offer some small insights as to how fear is created/perpetuated by nation/states to serve their unique military/industrial interests. The film shows how Trumbo broke the black-list by cleverly creating writing ‘fronts’ and ‘proxies’ who would produce film scripts for the King Brothers [John Goodman] whose only desire was to make ‘shlock films’ so that they could ‘make money and get pussie’. Trumbo’s ultimate redemption comes when he wins two Oscars for the films, “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One”, both of which he had to write under two different pseudonyms.
In addition to its historical insights, watching this film will give the viewer the opportunity to see the brilliance of Bryan Cranston paying an American who even in defeat, never loses his sense of probity and self-deprecating humor. Cranston deserves the Oscar nod for this one.
Congratulations to the writers/director/producers, who collectively made this enlightening film possible through a new independent film company called, Bleecker Street Productions.