A citizen no less peaceful than his neighbors
Comprised of home movie and interview clips with Trumbo (who died in 1976 at the age of 70), his children, friends, filmmakers and journalists, Trumbo pays scant attention to the whys and hows of his tumultuous career. His support for the Communist Party — because they “opposed the rise of fascism in Europe” — goes unexplored and unchallenged; the political and social ramifications of post-WWII anti-Communism are oversimplified; and Trumbo’s heyday in Hollywood is summarized in a fleeting montage of title cards from the pictures he wrote. The backlash of the Blacklist, Trumbo’s inability to get work and his family’s suffering for his principles, could’ve filled a feature film on its own.
Yet all of those things have, over the decades, obscured the fact that Dalton Trumbo was amusing, erudite and an exceptional writer when moved by his subject. Christopher Trumbo seizes the moment to celebrate the raconteur and artiste through his writings. With input from Helen Manfull, the editor of Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962, Dalton’s correspondence with colleagues, friends and even a utility company are read aloud by stars: Michael Douglas, Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Nathan Lane. Inundated with pathos, cynicism and acerbic wit, the letters, memos, and excerpts from novels and scripts form a portrait of a man shaped both by his ethics as well as the intolerance of his persecutors.
His enemies weren’t limited to Washington and Hollywood, nor did they target him exclusively. David Strathairn reads Trumbo’s plea to the local PTA for leniency toward his young daughter Mitzi, a bright and popular girl shunned at school by classmates and neighbors swayed by the HUAC hearings. Paul Giamatti recites a lively communiqué to the electric company; his insolvent family faced with the nagging necessity of overpriced power from a greedy monopoly, Trumbo plants tongue in cheek in a caustic appeal he opens with “Dear Burglars.”
Say what you will about the Blacklist; for good or ill, it assured Trumbo’s place in history. (How many other screenwriters have had documentaries made about them?) He refused to name names on the grounds that the hearings violated his First Amendment rights. Christopher’s apparent concern, to portray Dalton as a caring, albeit idealistic, father and husband rather than simply a whipped martyr lends Trumbo a benevolence and humanity generally missing in other works about him.
Trumbo with wife Cleo at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, 1947