In public, Dalton Trumbo seemed to be the jester of the Hollywood Ten. His contempt for HUAC, while deeply genuine, often emerged as playground banter. It was too serious a conflict to win with biting sarcasm and snappy delivery, but he played it that way and that’s how he’s remembered. Off camera, the personal and professional humiliations were unbearable, particularly when they drove his daughter away from a school she used to love. Off camera, he went broke, wrote under pen names and won two Oscars while blacklisted. He was the first major writer to break the blacklist. Not all the Hollywood Ten received the chance.
A bunch of successful Hollywood actors attempt to reveal Trumbo’s struggle with Hollywood. The fact that many of their staged readings pale next to the sharp wit of the real Trumbo dilutes the impact of “Trumbo,” a well-meaning documentary, perhaps, at best. “Trumbo” is a starting point for further research into a frightening era that still has meaning today. There are other documentaries and fact-driven movies (“Hollywood on Trial” and “Fear On Trial,”) richer and more incisive that describe the blacklist in vivid detail. Unfriendly committee witnesses refused to divulge their associates because they realized their cooperation would result in further suffering by former colleagues and their families. They were vilified for their silence then and even now, the repercussions of the blacklist are still being felt.
Among movie buffs, the Hollywood Ten are not always remembered fondly and HUAC is even regarded as patriotic and heroic in some circles. The movie “Trumbo” shatters no conventional wisdom and offers no fresh insights into the blacklist. What it does, is share home movies, old letters and faded dreams. If it makes you wonder why so much pain and suffering was necessary for the victims of the blacklist, the film has value for the 21st century if and when another blacklist ever returns.
© 2008 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/13/08
USA - 2007