Trumbo

Initially a successful novelist, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo shot to the top of M-G-M Studios in the late 1930s, raking in Oscar nominations (1940’s “Kitty Foyle”) and an impressive $4,000 a week. But, as is the case with most biopics, tragedy struck; leaving Trumbo a blacklisted Communist who served a year in jail in 1950. Once released, a lack of studio offers forced the talented wordsmith to churn out cheap B-pictures under assumed aliases — two of which wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Only in Hollywood.

As a story, “Trumbo” is right in the wheelhouse of an industry that pretends to love fiction while secretly loving its own salacious history. Director Jay Roach, typically known for lowbrow comedies that include “Meet The Parents” (2000), is shamelessly enamored with the magic of the past, peppering in newsreel footage, recreated film sets and superstars of the era. 

The last of those inclusions is particularly fun, as supporting roles are filled by real life leading men like Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg). Rounded out with a vicious turn from Helen Mirren as nasty columnist Hedda Hopper, and Roach’s supporting cast proves invaluable to the historical proceedings that surround them.

That history is one that’s changed radically in the past eight decades. Though deemed right by the government during their “fight against communism,” “Trumbo” is a story that wears its judgment on its sleeve. The Communists are not bad people, as Trumbo and his writing cohorts (including a great Louis C.K.) prove time and time again throughout the film — they are mistreated merely because of their differing views. It’s a safe message to pad into a movie in 2015, but regardless, the sincerity is worth taking note of. And while things can easily veer into the valley of heavy-handedness, especially when Trumbo becomes a badgering workaholic to his family, this preachy melodrama still works in a nostalgic sort of way. Several critics have made unflattering comparisons to “Trumbo” resembling a TV movie, but the style ultimately suits its period piece origins and makes for a snug fit.

At the center of it all is the man himself, Dalton Trumbo. Played with snickering panache by Bryan Cranston, the screenwriter is lush with personality, witty wordplay and a true presence onscreen. One gets the sense Trumbo even surpassed his movies in the charisma department, and that assumption gets played up by Cranston and Roach. The only issue with this choice is that emotions are tough to spot underneath a bear of a mustache and enough cigarettes to warm the Earth. There are times when Cranston gets dangerously close to crafting a caricature, but he never quite falls off the cliff into artificiality. 

All in all, “Trumbo” is a completely satisfying if not creatively incredible film. Roach takes few risks with his direction, but the ones he does take are pleasantly integrated without sticking out. 

The cast, backed by solid turns from Diane Lane and Elle Fanning, are about as fleshed out as a story like this will allow, while Cranston puffs it up as the titular character. It’s not as masterful as the pictures Dalton Trumbo himself wrote, but I’m sure he’d get a kick out of this solid little biopic.

Danilo Castro is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the Film Noir Archive blog at www.filmnoirarchive.com

(1) comment

John Duval

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.

Dalton Trumbo the man:
Trumbo lied about being the author of the original screenplay which the 1956 Oscar for "Best Original Story" awarded to “The Brave One”. My father wrote the original screenplay and died before film production.

The movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving man that Trumbo was. Trumbo was all about the money and getting attention to that end. Trumbo was not a hero, he was just a grandstander who took credit from other people’s work if he could get away with it, especially my father, Juan Duval, who wrote the original screenplay that was the basis for the 1956 Oscar winning category “Best Original Story”, “The Bravo One”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo took advantage of it.

Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he was forced to write and rewrite scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. The King Bros’s nephew Robert Rich, who was one of four listed as the author, was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to pay Trumbo.

Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know (and I love the film), but he was not in Italy during the shooting where much of the script was re-written by Director Billy Wyler and screenwriter Ian Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wyler’s method of film making. Ian Hunter’s son (and rightly so) would not return the Oscar when asked by the Academy to do so in order that the Academy issue Trumbo the Oscar decades later.

I understand that Trumbo worked on my father’s screenplay, but 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, like they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.

Facts:
Trumbo re-wrote my father’s original screenplay and removed 50 pages from it, some of which, was about the Catholic ritual of blessing the bulls before a bull fight.

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” with 170 pages is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library where Trumbo donated all his work. The “#1” script’s Title page was removed and no author was mentioned.

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

The last two scripts 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. And Trumbo was never an informant for the FBI.

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 theater 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).
Mizi Trumbo refused to talk to me about The Brave One original screenplay.

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”.

John Hart Duval

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