Monday, January 23, 2017

DALTON TRUMBO AND THE BLACK LIST

I was born just after the black list was implemented.  I started watching movies just before it lapsed.  Two of my favourite movies were "Spartacus" and "Exodus," both written by Dalton Trumbo and released in 1960.  I was too young to appreciate the significance, but I really enjoyed both movies.

"Trumbo" recounts the blacklist days and the Hollywood Ten.  Anyone who enjoys movies should pay attention to what can happen when politicians get too much power.

After WWII there was concern among some that Communists were plotting to take over the government.  One target turned out to be Hollywood which had gained a reputation for humanitarian causes.  Dalton Trumbo had been a successful screen writer (including patriotic film, "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo"), but had been a member of the Communist Party.  Many intellectuals had seen the Communists as system that helped many people.  A Congressional investigation spearheaded by Joseph McCarthy turned on what had become known as the Hollywood Ten.  They could brand anyone for being a Communist, sympathizing with Communism or even for failing to co-operate with the investigation.   Bullying Hollywood producers employment disappeared for many writers, directors, and actors who were considered "Un-American.

Dalton was sentenced for contempt of Congress.  He agreed he did have contempt for them.  He spent  11 months in a Kentucky jail.  The movie depicts it as mind numbing time for Dalton.

After prison release he had the problem of making a living when he could not be hired as a writer.  He wrote with numerous front men and a pseudonym including two scripts ("Roman Holiday" and "The Brave One) that won Oscars.  He was sought out because he could churn out a quantity of scripts that worked.  To meet deadlines he even wrote while in the bathtub with typewriter, bottle and cigarettes.

Otto Preminger, developed an admiration for Trumbo and got him to write "Exodus" adapted from a book) and decided it was time to recognize Trumbo.

Kirk Douglas, an actor I enjoyed watching took a chance as well and decided to credit Trumbo for writing Spartacus.  Kirk had formed his own film company and apparently after being overlooked for "Ben Hur" opted to do a blockbuster historical film.  As the executive producer he had a big dispute with director Stanley Kubrick and decided to get Dalton Trumbo to re-write a script that was unsatisfactory.  The original intention was not to publicly credit Trumbo, but he appreciated the writing and after Preminger's example felt he had to credit Trumbo properly.  A political element was added in that John F Kennedy enjoyed the movie.  This was the end of the blacklist.  Two years later Douglas and Trumbo collaborated successfully for "Lonely are the Brave."

Edward G Robinson was an actor I watched, but not really a fan.  I was surprised to learn that he was very active in politics in a liberal nature.  He was shown at a Congressional hearing explaining that he had been misled by communist members during some of his fundraising efforts and then denounced a few of the members including Dalton Trumbo.  In the movie he explained that he didn't name anyone that wasn't already known to have been a Communist.  In the movie Dalton Trumbo summarized that the black list hurt a lot of people, forcing them to do things they wouldn't have done otherwise.  I believe that was his way of forgiving Edward G Robinson (and others).

John Wayne has long been known as a right winger and that was given emphasis.  He was obnoxious in his own distinctive way, but at one point Dalton pricked his self-righteous balloon.  Hedda Hopper was known to me as a gossip columnist with a vicious attitude towards her enemies including people she regarded as unpatriotic.  She had attacked Charlie Chaplin and Spencer Tracy.  In the movie, played by Helen Mirren she confessed she had acted in movies, but found a better opportunity to be a columnist.  I was surprised to learn her only son William Hopper, after a mediocre acting career landed a regular spot on "Perry Mason" a weekly habit for my father and me.

Actors give credibility and "Trumbo" found some good ones.  Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, John Goodman and Helen Mirren were some of the standouts, but the entire supporting cast was excellent.  News clippings added to a celebrity watch.  I spotted Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall, James Garner and John F Kennedy.

Some politicians extoll the virtues of patriotism, but to stir up emotions go too far when they accuse people of being un-pure.  We are familiar that politicians are still doing that.  "Trumbo" is a reminder that we are always in danger of losing our freedoms to emotional charges agains "the others;"  those who are not like us and don't deserve a good life.

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