In the late 1940s, Hollywood filmmakers were terrorized by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Committee, searching for Communists in TinselTown. Egged on by judgmental patriot John Wayne (David James Elliott) and vicious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), the Committee, chaired by J. Parnell Thomas (James Dumont), targeted ‘suspicious’ citizens, subpoenaing them and asking, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Read on…
Primary among those was Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), whose mockery of the Committee landed him in jail after being convicted of contempt of Congress. He was the leader of the “Hollywood Ten,” who were blacklisted and unable to find work.
While others fled overseas, Trumbo refused to leave. Instead, he used several pseudonyms, churning out scripts for many pictures including “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One,” garnering two Best Original Screenplay Oscars.
While most of Trumbo’s work was for schlocky B-picture mogul Frank King (John Goodman), eventually Stanley Kubrick and Otto Preminger defied the notorious blacklist, giving Trumbo credit for his work on “Spartacus” and “Exodus,” respectively.
Habitually writing in the bathtub with a long-stemmed cigarette holder clenched between his teeth and a tumbler of Scotch at his side, Bryan Cranson (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is superb as the highly-principled idealist, supported by his loyal wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and activist daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning).
The strong ensemble also includes comedian Louis C.K. as cynical Arlin Herd (a composite of several screenwriters), Michael Stuhlbarg as enigmatic Edward G. Robinson, and Dean O’Gorman as outspoken Kirk Douglas.
Working from a glib script by John McNamara (TV’s ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”), adapted from Bruce Cook’s biography, director Jay Roach (TV’s “Game Change,” “Recount”) astutely utilizes archival footage and re-creates newsreels, delivering intriguing glimpses of Robert Taylor and Humphrey Bogart.
FYI: Years ago, Martin Ritt also explored this notorious era in “The Front,” starring Woody Allen.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Trumbo” is an eloquent 8, focusing on one of the most shameful periods in Hollywood history.