No, I’m not talking about the current political scene. I’m talking about the good old days; the days of black and white TV and wholesomeness that dripped and drooled venom and ruined the lives and livelihood of people who worked hard at their professions. I’m addressing the THE MCCARTHY ERA and the House Committee on Un-American Activities (Huac). When Americans could slander individuals and ask questions they had no right to ask and send people to jail for not answering. Back to the days when you couldn’t ignore a congressional subpoena. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to Dalton Trumbo, a film released in 2015.
Dalton Trumbo was a member of the Communist Party for five years. He joined when Russia was our ally in World War II. During World War II Trumbo wrote A Guy Named Joe and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, both war movies starring Spencer Tracy. Those movies gave America hope that we could defeat our enemies. Near the end of the war Trumbo was a U.S. War Correspondent during the invasion of Okinawa by U.S. Forces. He wrote scripts that made sense and people loved them.
When called to congress Trumbo and others were asked questions seeking a yes or no answer. “. . . are you now or have you ever been member of the Communist Party?” There was no evidence given that they had ever done anything against the United States of America. The HUAC was created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Fascist or Communist ties, but it didn’t really gather steam until after the war. Was being a Communist against the law? No.
Dalton and Cleo Trumbo were hardly poster icons for communism. Cleo was never a communist. Bryan Cranston plays the flamboyant award winning screen writer Dalton Trumbo. Diane Lane plays Trumbo’s wife (nicely underplayed with a backbone of steel). Although Trumbo fought for workers rights and civil rights, he used a cigarette holder when he smoked. He had a gold lighter, and a gold cigarette case. Most of his fellow successful writers had servants, collected art, lived in very nice homes, and lived the high life, which is a long way from communism.
He is convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in federal prison. He was released after ten months. While there he meets fellow inmate, J.Parnell Thomas, ex-U.S. Representative from New Jersey who served on Huac, and even sneered at and threatened Trumbo earlier in the halls of justice. Sometimes karma comes into play.
Trumbo is a little quirky, perhaps more than a little. Drinking Scotch and gulping “bennies” (Benzedrine) while typing out scripts in his bathtub is just an every day occurrence. The film Trumbo is a wild ride of lies, sacrifice, betrayal, and redemption. He could sell a story, promise a hundred page script in less than two weeks . . . AND deliver. When he got rolling he had blacklisted authors all working together and using different names. He had a bank of phones in his home with his kids answering, taking messages, giving scripts to couriers, and even delivering them as well.
Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie. It involves John Goodman as a movie producer of cheap films. Once the producer hires Trumbo the word got around that Trumbo was now creating scripts for him. He was soon warned and blackmailed to fire Trumbo. The language is a little rough, but it is a fun scene to watch, and watch again.