Found via Orrin Judd, Lloyd Billingsley, who previously wrote “Hollywood’s Missing Movies“, which featured a plot summary of Total Eclipse, the greatest film Hollywood will never make, has a review of the new hagio-documentary, Trumbo:
Capitalism is evil and America is a horrible fascist place, the argument goes, except for my lucrative studio contract, except for my fat bank account, except for my mansion, my swimming pool, my ranch, and my luxury cars. That’s why there were jokes about Robert Rich, one of Trumbo’s pseudonyms. Trumbo, who died in 1976, tells those stories here, along with his one-man show of accredited victimhood, in which he gets some help. Former Nation editor Victor Navasky does a lot of the explaining, and his book Naming Names, a defense of the screen Stalinists, is conveniently displayed beside him.
Here is the familiar footage of the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on Communism in Hollywood, which foolishly focused on film content. The screen Stalinists were eager to testify but the strategy of defying the committee came straight from the CPUSA bosses. Trumbo is billed as an independent thinker and contrarian, but that didn’t extend to Party bosses. When they laid down the law, they were obeyed. As John Huston later discovered, the strategy was all about protecting John Howard Lawson, the Party’s straw boss in the studio talent guilds, and like Trumbo, an unpleasant fellow to those of other affiliations, even on the left.
Some studio people were friendly to the committee because the Party, in its heyday, wielded plenty of power in the studios and had made their lives miserable, doing all they could to quash their projects and ruin their careers. Trumbo provides not a hint of that background, nor why the committee came to Hollywood in the first place. It was the result of an investigation of Gerhard Eisler, a Comintern agent whose brother Hanns wrote scores for Hollywood movies. The Comintern isn’t even mentioned a single time.
Footage from films such as Papillon and Spartacus shows how much Trumbo imposed the heroes-versus-informers template. He also has a brief role in Papillon as a prison commandant, which is appropriate. The Hollywood Communists maintained silence as Stalin kangaroo courted their fellow writers and artists into the gulag, or just killed them off. Nothing about that in Trumbo, nothing that would threaten his status as the icon of what, in Hollywood, passes for the Greatest Generation.
Trumbo will likely win an Oscar for best documentary, even though it’s as much a fantasy as Tropic Thunder. Trumbo’s back story and the tale of CPUSA overtures in Hollywood are much more dramatic and action packed, but so far no takers in the dream factories.
I know at least one Blogger who gave it a shot, however: