I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Jay Roach’s film “Trumbo” – about the Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (played by the excellent Bryan Cranston), who was blacklisted in 1947 after refusing to testify in the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
The ‘Hollywood Ten’ (all screenwriters, directors or producers) were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Yes, Trumbo was ridiculously naïve (in my view), but one forgets how frightening the McCarthy era of the 1940s/50s was – heightened political repression against communists and a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions. Trumbo was subsequently sent to prison… and, when released, found it virtually impossible to get work.
The era brings to mind the Nazi persecution of the Jews… and the power of the State to hoodwink an entire population (virtually). It’s sickening to think about the number of lives (individuals and families) that were blighted, or even lost, by such policies. Ironically, this morning, my friend Jennie posted this photograph of political prisoners being rounded up
Anyway, back to the film…
Trumbo ends up “ghost writing” screenplays in order to avoid recognition (and to earn some money) and Kirk Douglas persuades him to do this on his “Spartacus” film – for which he ultimately DOES receive recognition (and an Oscar)… I was just a little disappointed that they didn’t get to use the line: “I’m a communist”… “no, I’m a communist” in the Trumbo film!!
A powerful, very impressive film… and a reminder of just how difficult it is to stand up against a government or an institution.
PS: Somewhat frighteningly, the House Committee on Un-American Activities wasn’t disbanded until 1975.
PPS: There are an awful lot of cigarettes smoked in the film!