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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TRUMBO (2015)

Reasonably watchable Hollywood waxworks about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo loosens up a bit in its second half (after his jail term on a contempt charge is up). But the writers’ angle on ‘50s Commie Witchhunts is better told in THE FRONT/’76, which tackles the subject obliquely (even speaking to the non-converted), and also gains points by drawing on talent (in front & behind the camera) who’d actually been on the BlackList. (Here, the best scene has Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo & Louis C. K., playing a fellow blacklisted writer, fiercely arguing over tactics and what's really at stake. More like this would have helped.) But the great Hollywood Commie Witchhunt story remains unfilmed, though its often been told in print. It involves an attempted putsch at the Screen Directors’ Guild when Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Capra & Sam Wood tried to ram thru a Loyalty Oath against the will of Prezy (and longstanding Republican) Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Apparently, no one will touch it. Maybe for the best. Instead, save the last word on those Ten Unfriendly Witnesses for Billy Wilder, ‘Only two were talented, the rest were just unfriendly.’

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Trumbo’s Oscar®-winnning story for THE BRAVE ONE/’56 (writing as Robert Rich) is generally thought to have been developed from one of three stories meant to make up Orson Welles’ never completed Brazilian omnibus pic IT’S ALL TRUE. The path is also complicated on Trumbo’s other Oscar-winner, ROMAN HOLIDAY/’53. His script, originally optioned by Frank Capra to make with Cary Grant & Elizabeth Taylor, had Ian McLellan Hunter ‘fronting.’ But when Capra dropped the project, William Wyler grabbed it, got Ben Hecht to do a rewrite (without credit), then brought in John Dighton for a (credited) polish. No doubt, Trumbo got screwed both times, but the real shame in all this was seeing the treacly BRAVE ONE win the Best Original Story Oscar over Cesare Zavattini for Vittorio De Sica’s UMBERTO D./’52. Now, that’s injustice.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, THE FRONT.

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