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Trumbo - DVD Review by Diane McCurdy

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Trumbo - DVD Review by Diane McCurdy

By Diane McCurdy 

Johnny Got His Gun is a novel about a World War I veteran who is lying in a hospital bed. He is a quadruple amputee and can neither see nor hear. His body has been ravaged but his mind is intact. After many agonizing attempts, the head tapping that his caregivers attributed to nervous agitation is finally recognized to be Morse Code and the message he is trying to convey is that he wants to be transported around the country so everyone can see the grotesqueness of what is left of his body as the inglorious spoils of war. Dalton Trumbo wrote the book and directed the film into which it was eventually made. Dalton Trumbo was an eccentric. Dalton Trumbo was a Communist. Dalton Trumbo was a genius.

In the film, Trumbo, based on his life we follow this prolific screenwriter, whose credits run to almost 80 scripts, through the trials and tribulations of his Hollywood career. Today his philosophy of Communism would look more socialistic but in the 40’s a communist would be as feared as much as a terrorist would be today. Mass paranoia after World War II created a particularly ungracious period in our history that spawned the House Un-American Activities Committee. The committee was formed to ferret out writers who allegedly were planning the downfall of the government through film propaganda and subtext. Trump was subpoenaed before Congress and gave wonderfully creative answers but refused to name specific names and was charged with contempt. He went to jail for less than year with the other so-called “Hollywood Ten” writers who were subsequently blacklisted. After his incarceration he came back to the movie industry and continued in his profession using a pseudonym. He worked for a “B” film director and churned out hack scripts fast and furiously. He also turned out the Oscar winning scripts for Roman Holiday and The Brave One. For Roman Holiday he worked with a collaborator, sharing percentages for borrowing the other fellow’s name. For The Brave One he composed under the moniker, Robert Rich. Eventually the blacklist began to dilute to gray and he was approached by Kirk Douglas to pen the script for Spartacus followed by Otto Preminger’s similar request for Exodus.

Hollywood loves self-reflection. Anchored by the great performance by Bryan Cranston in the title role who you will remember as Walter White in Breaking Bad . Cranston received a nomination this year for best actor. He is supported by a superb cast of characters. Diane Lane is his steadfast wife, Cleo. John Goodman is the tacky, boorish “B” film director. Comedian Louis C.K. is a fellow blacklister. Elle Fanning is his daughter, Nikola. Helen Mirren’s turn as gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, with her crazy hats and acid personality makes a stand out villain.

Trumbo gives its audience Hollywood with all its glitz, glamor and its warts as well. It doesn’t shy away from the blots on our democracy either. The blacklist ruined careers and lives. Trumbo was a weird guy who often wrote in the bathtub with a bird on his shoulder. His life was fascinating. You’ll enjoy this movie.