I've just had an opportunity to see the new movie, Trumbo, the true story of the near total demise of the Hollywood film industry in the 1950's as Congress and some right-wing zealots (John Wayne, Hedda Hopper, and Ronald Reagan - to name three) tried to rid the movie business of communist influences.
Dalton Trumbo, the title character, was a successful novelist and one of the most productive screenwriters in Hollywood. Trumbo, a member of the Communist Party of America, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and asked about his involvement with the group. He was also asked to name others who were sympathetic to the communists and the labor issues of the time. He declined - and was sent to prison for contempt of Congress.
Trumbo was also blacklisted by the major studios and not permitted to pen any movies. He wrote under a friend's name or assumed names for several years in order to feed his family. During that period he wrote two movies which won Academy Awards for their scripts, but was not able to collect his Oscars because officially he hadn't written them.
For those of us of a certain age who grew up first hating Nixon and then Reagan, this movie offers much with which to identify. It brings back memories of bad times and stirs emotions. Bryan Cranston as the chain-smoking Trumbo is amazing as he navigates a steady stream of hopelessness and always manages to maintain his self-respect and keep pushing forward. One of Cranston's best scenes in the movie is when he is confronted by John Wayne at a meeting and proceeds to nail the Duke's hide to the wall by pointing out that not only did the super patriot not serve in World War II, he spent the war years on movie sets "shooting blanks and wearing make-up."
Dame Helen Mirren, as the sinister celebrity columnist, Hedda Hopper, brings a level of malevolence to the screen that is startling - even for her. Mirren's Hopper is deliciously easy to hate. Her best line occurred when she confronted studio head Louis B. Mayer in his office and told him that if he did not fire Trumbo and the others in the "Hollywood Ten," she would bring the matter to the attention of her 35 millions readers. Mayer promptly caved. Mirren's exact lines cannot be printed here due to this blogger's excessive modesty!
For every villain depicted in this movie, there is also a hero. Lucille Ball, whose radio voice is heard in the film, is one who supported the writers and the the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger are also viewed under a strong light of reason. But as the news reels showed mobs of Americans marching against the communists and communist sympathizers, one cannot help but be reminded of today's mindless fascists who protest and rail in indignation against Muslims. Times change, but sometimes it seems like they don't change all that much.
Trumbo is a helluva good movie, a reminder of how easy it is to get swept up into the darkness - and how hard it is to fight the tides of ignorance. This is a movie that needs to be seen and discussed, a gripping lesson in American history with highlights of some of our worst and best moments.
There will be Oscars!