Monday, April 18, 2016

Finally Watched Trumbo

If this is the role Bryan Cranston got instead of Lex Luthor in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice than that's okay with me. I love period piece movies based in old time Hollywood, but as with all biopics and most blacklisting subjects I have to watch it with a grain of salt.

The moment I saw Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) I let out a groan, because someone always has to be the traitor to the cause in dramatizations. What makes it worse is how they frame it in a deceptive way. Of the four times Edward G. Robinson was called to testify in front of HUAC, it was his fourth time by 1952 that he gave in and named the ten who were already blacklisted so he could clear the air of being a Communist himself. Trumbo had already done his eleven month sentence in 1950. He was only confirming what was already known, not giving new information to light. He wasn't a Communist just because he fundraised with people who were against Fascism. Just as with Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, Robinson had to clear the air and prove he wasn't in league with anti-American organizations. It's up to you to decide how dirty was Robinson here.

As for the movie itself, forget the complexities. Shit they'll show you how feeble it is if you refuse to martyr and snitch instead. This leads me to the point of how much was Eddy G. a snitch? The transcripts that were reenacted verbatim in the movie are sure framed in a way to set him up as one to the audiences eyes and any made up personal conversation written between him and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) there after has to be framed to make you root for Trumbo and pity or have contempt for Robinson. A shameful, missed opportunity there. All so Trumbo can be the bigger man in the end when he makes his last speech in front of The Writer's Guild, while Robinson is oddly enough in the audience. Does that imply the two made up in the end. Why else would Eddy be there than for dramatic license?

It does look bad on Edward G. that he just confirmed names already known and then denounced his former ties to organizations that supposedly supported a totalitarian regime. The true definition of a snitch is someone whose implicit in crimes and dealings with whoever they rat out vs. what John Wayne does and that's target employers and colleagues he wouldn't have hung out with or do fundraising with anyway. When you're Eddy G. and you see the reality of all your colleagues going to jail, jobs drying up, dying, families disintegrating, other friends turning on them, demonized, hounded, and some that comes your way, you might just decide you don't have it in you to be Trumbo and martyr or take the high horse. Not to save your ass or your collections of paintings, but perhaps to protect your family and ability to work, which is more important than your job or public persona in the end. Nope that can't be it can it? Be sure you got a loyal family to risk it all like Trumbo.

I suppose it could be worse, you could be director Buddy Ross (Roger Bart) who disavows Trumbo then comes crawling back to him to fix his screenplay anonymously because his last pictures were crap.

In contrast, John Wayne (David James Elliott) doesn't seem so bad for wanting lenience with denouncers of Communism, while the villainous Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) is hellbent on destroying lives with her power of the press whether the the target's remorseful or not. Then of course you got your Otto Preminger's (Christian Berkel) and Kirk Douglas's (Dean O'Gorman) who risk there career for the greater good of giving Trumbo his due.

There's of course some dissent among the family, but they stick it out and from Trumbo's friend and fellow blacklisted screenwriter Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) a composite character who wants to sue the House of American Activities and dies for his bad habits, while Trumbo would rather win through perseverance and prove to them that they need his services when they vilify them.

Ultimately Frank King (John Goodman) proves to be the neutral party in all this as the foul mouth boss of King Brothers Productions who hires Trumbo and Hird for doctoring and writing screenplays for gaudy B movies. It's pretty cool that he sticks to his convictions of being in it for the money and pussy and refuses to be pushed around by investigators. Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow) surprisingly isn't thrown under the bus as much as I thought he would be, casting couch assertions or no, they're said from a power hungry gossip columnist who calls him an antisemitic slur. Here is the closest we get to complexity even though you end up hating Hopper for her blatant racism than you do Mayer for his alleged sleaziness against women.

All in all a decent film, but I'm not happy with how they handled Edward G. Robinson. I guess he had to be the much needed traitor to liberals because Elia Kazan doesn't work thematically and has been played out. Eddy's story is much more complex than Trumbo's assertions that he just wanted to continue to be Beverly Hills bourgeois collecting painting from dead guys or Robinson's point about him being a public face while Trumbo can hide under screen writing. Disappointing and simplistic when you consider the actors who got hounded to death like John Garfield or were never allowed to work again like Lee Grant. The film does try to address that point at the end, but it really doesn't get into the meat of the whole controversy than vague allusions and speeches.

As much as I'm on Trumbo's side for free speech and freedom of affiliation and I hate snitches, as I've said, I don't care for how they frame Robinson as a turncoat who lost his way doing things he wouldn't normally do. It's not really snitching if the crime is on public record and had been dealt with. Political ideals only get you so far until your personal and working life is fucked beyond repair than to play the friendly witness. How many readers out there have to eat shit everyday from a boss who abuses power, but talks a big game of worker's rights? I'm not saying that Robinson is theoretically in the right, nor do I condemn him.*


* Maybe I'm biased because I own more Robinson films than any other actor besides James Cagney and Fred Astaire, but John Garfield's my number three favorite actor after James Cagney and George Raft so you know I take the HUAC blacklisting personally as an great injustice. On another note: I also have to point out that while I can't stand John Wayne and Ronald Reagan anyway, that doesn't stop me from enjoying a Walt Disney production or a Robert Taylor movie who are also in league with HUAC or named names because they believed in what they thought was the patriotic thing to do.

This movie was a must for my dad who loved (maybe that's the wrong word, impressed?) by Bryan Cranston's turn on Breaking Bad.

Dalton Trumbo writes in the bath as do I. He had a better system, a board propped on both sides of the tub to place his typewriter on. I used to prop my mini laptop on a food tray on my dry belly, didn't want to press my luck so I've taken to typing on my notes feature on my 1st gen. Kindle. Much like a typewriter, it's not good for going back and fixing mistakes. I'd say they need to make a handheld word processor, but that's what stupid touch screen smart phones and tablets are for and I say bah.

The movie Dalton Trumbo gets his first credit on since the blacklist is Otto Preminger's Exodus. My mother saw it when she was young and talked about a lot and she finally begged my brother to buy it for her for Christmas last year and he did. It's one of the last films she got to see before passing away this year.

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