sun 14/07/2024

Trumbo | reviews, news & interviews



Glib account of the blacklisted screenwriter's resisting of Hollywood's Red-baiters

Harpy with a hat: columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) dishes out the vitriol to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston)

Trumbo depicts the 13-year struggle by the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) to break the blacklist imposed on him and the other members of the Hollywood Ten in 1947.

By continuing to get his scripts produced throughout the Fifties, Trumbo made a heroic, if morally complex stand against rabid Red Scare-mongers like the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott). It’s disappointing that his courage and brinkmanship should grace a movie with no attitude of its own – that has the narrow sensibility of a 1980s or 1990s telefilm.

Cranston nails the elegance of the silver-tongued, indefatigable refusenik, who affected a cigarette holder and typed his scripts in the bathtub or with a parrot on his shoulder. Taking its cue from him, Trumbo is buoyant and witty, though in hands other than those of director Jay Roach (who made the Austin Powers movies and a TV film about Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential campaign), it could have been a slice of hell. 

The paranoia and despair engendered by the naming of names during the McCarthy era is given short shrift in John McNamara’s densely packed but over-simplified script. The House Committee on Un-American Activities interrogators are goons, the gangrenous Hopper a witch conducting a personal witchhunt. The burden of informer guilt is dumped on Edward G Robinson, affectingly played by Michael Stuhlbarg. The great Jewish star was a left-liberal Democratic activist harried by HUAC’s anti-Semites into vilifying unspecified friends who hadn’t told him they were Communists. Though Robinson never named names in reality, this film has him naming Trumbo and four others. (Pictured below: Cranston with Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo.)Trumbo

McNamara leaves few stones unturned in equably cataloguing the darkest night of Hollywood’s soul. Subpoenaed by HUAC, Trumbo and his more radical friend Arlen Hird (Louis CK, out of his depth here as a composite of five of the Hollywood Ten) refuse to testify whether they were or had ever been members of the Communist Party. They’re imprisoned for being in contempt of Congress, released after 11 months, then employed to write pseudonymously for cheapo producers the King brothers. Hird berates Trumbo for betraying their political principles to write mostly trash. Trumbo’s sentimental and unoriginal script for The Brave One nonetheless wins him an Oscar. He can’t collect it, any more than he could collect the Writer’s Guild Award he won for Roman Holiday, though they are huge symbolic victories.

As Trumbo labours round the clock to knock out scripts for Frank King (John Goodman, belligerence personified), he enlists his steadfast wife Cleo and their three kids as secretaries and couriers for his clandestine operation. He thus has a mild case of the tyrannical behaviour screen heroes are obliged to indulge as they go into overdrive. Cleo (a serene Diane Lane) tells him off for being a bully; Nikola (Elle Fanning), their eldest, throws a hissy fit when Dad won’t leave his bath and writing pad to watch her blow out her birthday cake candles. Nikola’s Civil Rights activism indicates she’s a chip off the old block but feels like one tangent too many. 

The Red-baiters weaken when, defying Hopper, Kirk Douglas (expertly impersonated by Dean O’Gorman) hires Trumbo to tackle the Spartacus script and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) virtually moves into the Trumbos’ house to oversee his adaptation of Leon Uris’s Exodus. McNamara’s writing is at its blithest dancing around Douglas’s and Preminger’s unspoken competition to be the first to give the blacklisted writer a screen credit. (Pictured below: Cranston and O'Gorman.)

TrumboA whole movie could be devoted to the issue of who did the most to rehabilitate Trumbo. Evidence suggests that Douglas originally overstated his role and that Preminger and Spartacus producer Edward Lewis were the pivotal figures. (Douglas, 99, who has seen and approved Trumbo, issued a statement last November that didn’t press his claims further; there are no reports that Lewis, who is 95 or 96, has seen it.)

Since Roach’s film errs in downplaying the anguish Trumbo must have suffered, in and out of prison, and the comparable or worse misery endured by his friends, students of the blacklist will be better served by watching another Trumbo, Peter Askin's 2007 documentary. The fictional one prompts also a fresh look at High Noon, in which Gary Cooper’s sheriff, defending a town of cowards, makes a lone stand against a gang of killers; screenwriter Carl Foreman’s allegory of the McCarthy witch-hunts was the last Hollywood film he finished before he was blacklisted in 1952. 

Watching Elliott’s John Wayne strut and bluster in Trumbo, you can see why Wayne, who paradoxically believed in collective action, loathed High Noon. Simmering with hate, he nearly hits Trumbo at one point. The President of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, he all but squares up to Hopper, too – not because the former actress is “awful pretty” when she gets mad, but because she’s a monster.




Trumbo the film, I do not judge the fine actors nor their performance in this make-believe film, but I take exception that there is value or a substantive message learned from untold truth, innuendo and the manipulation of facts by the writer, producers and the director of this film.  


Aside from the political debate, the movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving men that Trumbo and the King Bros were. Trumbo and the King Bros were all about the money and getting attention to that end.


Trumbo was not a hero, he was a ruthless grandstander who mislead and toyed with the media about many things and the most important among them, to me, was his plagiarism of my father’s work.


Trumbo lied about being the original author of the screenplay that the 1956 film, “The Brave One” was based. 


My father, Juan Duval, was the author of the original screenplay which the film “The Brave One” was based and awarded the Oscar for “Best Original Story”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo unashamedly took advantage of it.


Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he wrote and rewrote scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. Frank King’s nephew by marriage, Robert Rich, was the fourth person listed as the author of “the Brave One” (after the King Bros removed the title page of the original script) and was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI report, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to Trumbo.  


Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know (and I love the film), but Trumbo was not in Italy during the shooting where much of the script was re-written by Director William Wyler and screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wyler’s method of film making. After Hunter’s death, his son would not return the Oscar (and rightly so) when asked by the Academy so the Academy could then issue the Oscar to Trumbo decades later. In my opinion, the success of the film was due to Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s splendid performance of romance against the background of post WWII Italy.


Proof that Trumbo did not write the original screenplay and plagiarized my father’s screenplay is revealed in Trumbo’s book of letters, “Additional Dialogue”, page 270/271 wherein he explains to the King Bros that he, “ruthlessly cut all extraneous material and scenes, and kept rigidly the simple story of the boy and the bull”. Trumbo cut 50 pages from the original screenplay.


No matter, it was my father’s original story and not Trumbo’s, which was the category the Oscar was awarded. The Academy should issue a posthumous Oscar to my father, as they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.


If you read the screenplay marked #1 and the redacted letters in Trumbo’s book, “Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962” and compare them to the rewritten scripts and un-redacted letters archived at the University of Wisconsin Library, it’s obvious that Trumbo didn’t write the original screenplay, otherwise, why would he criticize and complain to the King Bros in so many letters about the original screenplay.


“The Brave One” script marked “#1” has 170 pages and is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library along with 5 other scripts. The script marked “#1” is the only script missing the Title page and author’s name.


Then there is the “first version” (133 pages) and “second version” (119 pages) of the scripts listed “Screenplay by: Arthur J. Henley”.


The last two scripts are listed “Screenplay by Merrill G. White and Harry S Franklin on the early movie posters and “Original Story by Robert L. Rich” was added to scripts later.  


When the King Bros listed their nephew Robert Rich as author they had no idea that “The Brave One” would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. At first, Frank King said that there was no such person as Robert Rich and later he said that they bought a 6-page script from a Robert Rich who was away in Germany or Spain.


Robert Rich (the nephew) did not attend the Oscar awards because he turned informant for the FBI who were watching Trumbo and Rich didn’t want to be publicly humiliated when the truth came out. And Trumbo used the excuse for not being able to produce the original screenplay for The Brave One on his residence being burgled while intimating that it was the FBI who tossed his residence (FBI File Number: 100-1338754; Serial: 1118; Part: 13 of 15). The FBI did in fact toss his residence but had no interest in scripts.


White and Franklin were editors and acting as fronts for Trumbo before and after “The Brave One” movie. The King Bros did not initially intend that their nephew Robert Rich be a front for Trumbo as White and Franklin were first listed as the screenwriters on the movie posters of The Brave One. It was only after the media played up the no-show at the Oscars that the King Bros and Trumbo saw an opportunity to play the media and sell tickets (per Trumbo’s letters to the King Bros).    


Juan Duval, poet, dancer, choreographer, composer and director of stage and film was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1897. He matriculated from the Monastery at Monserrat and moved to Paris in 1913 where he studied with his uncle M Duval. Juan Duval was renowned as a Classical Spanish and Apache dancer and performed in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. Juan was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.


In 1915, Juan Duval was conscripted into the French Army and fought in Tunis and Verdun, where he suffered head wounds and was partially gassed. He came to the US in 1918 and joined the US Army and was then stationed with the 50th Infantry in occupied Germany for two years before immigrating to the US where he directed live theatre and taught dancing and acting at his Studio of Spanish Dancing on Hollywood Blvd across from the Warner Bros Theatre. Juan produced Cave of Sorrow (Play); Lila (Musical Comedy); Spanish Love (Drama); Café Madrid; Spanish Revue; Night In Paris (Drama) and choreographed “One Mad Kiss” (musical) and at least one sword fighting scene with Rudolf Valentino. He directed movies in Mexico and Cuba including the 1935 highest grossing Spanish speaking film, “El Diablo Del Mar” starring Movita (Marlon Brando’s second wife).

Before former Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Bruce Davis retired, he told me that because of the documentation that I provided him, he was inclined to believe that my father wrote the original screenplay which the movie, “The Brave One” was based.

The Academy gave Trumbo an Oscar for “The Brave One” 20 years after the Oscars and posthumously gave him another Oscar for the Roman Holiday in 2011.


The Academy of Arts and Sciences should recognize my father’s original story and posthumously awarded him the Oscar for “Best Original Story” for “The Brave One”.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters