July 9, 2008 by
Filed under: Uncategorized 



This film although raising issues central to our democracy seems to have been produced on a shoe string, despite the appearance of many prominent actors, probable at their own expense, to read Dalton Trumbo’s letters and words.

The subject of course is the blacklist and how it was used to destroy the Hollywood Ten by denying them the right to work. Trumbo blamed the studios and producers for not standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee by not blacklisting those who refused to declare whether they had ever belonged to the Communist Party and name others whom they were aware of being members.

Trumbo, ever the idealist and child of the Great Depression, had been a member of the Communist Party USA in 1943 when Russia was an American ally in the war against the fascist powers in Europe.

In 1947 Trumbo refused to answer questions by raising the First Amendment Freedom Of Speech clause as protecting him from disclosing his political ideas and beliefs. He also refused to take the Fifth Amendment Right Against Self Incrimination on the grounds he had committed no crime.

Of course the Smith Act, passed in 1940, made it a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the government. This Act was passed for the criminal prosecution of Communist Party members. So Trumbo was between a rock and a hard place. If he testified he was guilty of the Smith Act and if he didn’t he was guilty of Contempt of Congress. In his case he was convicted of contempt and spent eleven months in prison.

The sad part was that he was unemployable because of the blacklist. The picture depicts the consequences of the blacklist on Trumbo, his wife and children and also the others who were blacklisted.

Ironically J. Parnell Thomas the chairman of HUAC at the time was convicted of fraud and served time in the same prison as some of the Hollywood Ten.

Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, Josh Lucas and Donald Sutherland appear in the picture and read Trumbo’s eloquent letters and writings expressing his feeling about the matter.

One of the most salient parts of the movie is a scene from Spartacus which was based on Trumbo’s script. The Roman general tells the conquered slaves if they will identify Spartacus they would not be crucified. Where upon each of the slaves stands and says he is Spartacus.

The Smith Act is still on the books and has never been declared unconstitutional so lest you think the issues raised in this film are in the past the problem is still with us. Thus a man’s ideas as opposed to his acts can still make him a criminal.

This picture could have had wider appeal and had a wider release if it had better financing and marketing. It seems the powers that be in Hollywood would prefer this low budget documentary to briefly flower and die on the art house circuit and then go away as it is a testament to the Studio’s and producer’s failure to stand up and be counted when the chips were down. This is occurring when millions see fantasy CGI action pictures while a film addressing real abuses of power by the government is seen by a few thousand.

All and all it is a film worth seeing because just as Trumbo and hundreds of others lost their freedom and financial well being in the Forties and Fifties it can happen again and probably is right now under the Bush Justice Department. This is particularly true when you consider some of the things that have been done under the Patriot Act and the way the Bush Justice Department has used the Rico Law on perceived political enemies.



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