The film begins in 1947, yet Trumbo joined the Communist Party of the USA in 1943 after the Great Depression and the subsequent rise of Fascism caused thousands of Americans to join in the 1930s, and the US becoming allies with Russia in during World War II caused a surge in membership. Then came the Cold War which shifted a lot of suspicion onto the party.
The man had no option but to write his many screenplays under pseudonyms, so the majority of Hollywood didn’t know they had a communist working for them, although even in the pre-internet age secrets would slip out, but how to deal with them – that’s the rub. It’s interesting to see also how he ropes his family into helping him – and when you’re a commie you need your family, since the neighbours won’t always see eye to eye with you; as well as his defiance to continue to working in the one place he works at his best – the bath!
This movie’s main characters, in addition to Diane Lane as his wife Cleo, include Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) – the Paris Hilton of her day, and slightly less effeminate; another writer and Trumbo’s best friend, Arlen Hird (Louis CK being Louis CK, but that’s fine for this role – unless Arlen Hird sounds different from Louis CK), fellow actors John Wayne (David James Elliott – not looking 100% like the man, and I’m not a huge fan of his movies, but he’s alright. Reminds me more as if he’s playing Patrick Warburton, aka Joe from Family Guy) and Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), plus archive footage of various individuals including Reagan, dissing commies. I like how this is mxed in with newly-recorded film, but made to look like archive footage. John Goodman also appears as B-movie boss Frank King, from the King Bros, and like Louis CK, Goodman is as Goodman does, but again, it’s fine.
The only odd casting, in a way, is that while the main cast don’t change a great deal over the years, other than getting greyer, is that the actors playing the children are replaced on a regular basis, with Elle Fanning taking over from Madison Wolfe as a period of 9 months passes – as Trumbo and others spend time in prison (leading to them being known as The Hollywood Ten), yet she looks like she’s aged 5 years. But then there’s not a long you can do about that unless you go down the Boyhood route of literally filming in real time.
Trumbo rather canters through his life, so it’d be nice to slow down at times and an extended director’s cut would be nice, but as it stands, it gets the film done decently within two hours, also featuring lots of neat little wisecracks, often delivered by Cranston who lights up the screen in the lead, as his character writes new scripts and doctors bad ones by the dozen, but never can he put his name to them, for fear that being a communist will put people off.
To that end, I understand some of Trumbo’s communist actions are rather simplified in this movie, such as his daughter Niki recently telling Mark Kermode that while he wanted the children to also become a communist, in reality it wasn’t possible to anyone under 21.
Some of his best known works include He wrote Spartacus, The Brave One and Roman Holiday, plus Johnny Got His Gun – a film starring Timothy Bottoms as a man so severely wounded in the Vietnam war that he no longer had sight, sound, arms or legs; which may not be best known to everyone, but was the inspiration for Metallica’s One, and the long version of that video includes clips from the film.
What I’d like to check out now is the TV movie, One Of The Hollywood Ten, from 2000, starring Doctors‘ Owen Brenman as Dalton Trumbo.
Trumbo isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but you can buy Johnny Got His Gun on DVD, and click on the poster for the full-size image.
Running time: 124 minutes
Studio: Entertainment One
Format: 1.85:1 (Panavision)
Released: February 5th 2016
Director: Jay Roach
Producers: Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Michael London, Nimitt Mankad, John McNamara, Shivani Rawat and Janice Williams
Screenplay: John McNamara (based on the book “Trumbo” by Bruce Cook)
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Dalton Trumbo: Bryan Cranston
Cleo Trumbo: Diane Lane
Arlen Hird: Louis CK
Frank King: John Goodman
Niki Trumbo: Elle Fanning
John Wayne: David James Elliott
Edward G Robinson: Michael Stuhlbarg
Kirk Douglas: Dean O’Gorman
Hedda Hopper: Helen Mirren
Otto Preminger: Christian Berkel
Rocco: David Maldonado
Sam Wood: John Getz
Hymie King: Stephen Root
Virgil Brooks: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Niki Trumbo (Age 8-11): Madison Wolfe
Young Chris Trumbo (6-10): Tobias McDowell Nichols
Chris Trumbo (Age 10-12): Mitchell Zakocs
Chris Trumbo (Age 13-17): Mattie Liptak
Chris Trumbo (Age 29): John Mark Skinner
Mitzi Trumbo (Age 6-8): Meghan Wolfe
Mitzi Trumbo (Age 9-12): Becca Nicole Preston
Young Father: Jason Bayle
J Parnell Thomas: James DuMont
Ian McLellan Hunter: Alan Tudyk
Louis B Mayer: Richard Portnow
Buddy Ross: Roger Bart
Robert Stripling: Johnny Sneed
President John F Kennedy: Rick Kelly
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.