Hollywood in the 1940s. Cinema’s golden age. It was the time of such famous film folk as Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, and Orson Welles. However, it was also the period of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, a list of suspected communists working in the film industry. Finding themselves on the list resulted in many scriptwriters, actors and directors facing damaged careers or no job at all. Trumbo reviews this historic period through the narration of the life of Dalton Trumbo, a communist scriptwriter who had to survive in this unfair era.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was enjoying his successful scriptwriting career and life: perfect wife, three children, big house with a swimming pool in LA. However, when Hollywood’s witch hunts begun, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) initiated its anti-communism campaign, Trumbo was included in the blacklist for his political beliefs. He found himself in more trouble when in October 1947, he and the other nine members of the Hollywood’s film industry – together known as the Hollywood Ten – protested publicly in opposition to the methods employed by HUAC against communists in the film industry. After this, and given the republican anti-communist Joseph McCarthy’s election to senator in 1947, the scriptwriters and directors that formed the Hollywood Ten were condemned to jail and prohibited to work in the film industry. Trumbo spent almost a year of his life in prison. All of this didn’t stop him from writing: he wrote many scripts for which he was badly paid and used around thirteen different pseudonyms.
Trumbo was an eccentric and combative man, but also an original, funny, and often grumpy scriptwriter who used to write his stories inside a bathtub of hot water. Bryan Cranston as Trumbo is exceptional, natural and realistic. If you have seen the real Trumbo in documentaries or interviews, you will be able to acknowledge how brilliantly Cranston portrays his movements, his speech, his hand gestures. The role, quite different from Walter White in Breaking Bad, has been critically acclaimed and Cranston has been nominated for several awards including the BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the Oscar.
The movie depicts one of the most disgraceful events in Hollywood: the banning of artistic work because of ideological difference. Nonetheless, the film doesn’t necessarily need to be perceived as a historical drama. The script by John McNamara, which is based on the Bruce Cook’s book of the same name, is clever and is told with humour, and makes the story far more real.
It was in this unjust period that Trumbo wrote two scripts that won the Oscar for Writing (nowadays, called Oscar for Best Original Screenplay): Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956). Signing them with a pseudonym, Trumbo was just able to celebrate his success from home, watching the ceremony with his family on the TV. Luckily, the blacklist concluded in 1960 when Trumbo was publicly recognized as the scriptwriter of Exodus (1960) and Spartacus (1960). However, it was not until 1975, just a year before Trumbo’s death, that the Academy recognized him as the writer of The Brave One. In 1993, his work on Roman Holiday was finally recognised, but he didn’t live to see himself credited with the award and the Oscar was presented to Trumbo’s widow. Trumbo is an incredible trip into the Hollywood of the 1940s. Hollywood’s golden age? Not for Trumbo.
Images courtesy of Bleecker Street