August 20, 2008


REVIEW: of Trumbo (Lloyd Billingsley, 8/20/2008,

Here movie stars such Brian Dennehy, Donald Sutherland, David Strathairn, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Michael Douglas and others read excerpts from Trumbo’s own works. The intent seems clear enough, to replicate the effect of the famous scene Trumbo wrote in Spartacus, based on the Howard Fast novel, where slaves rise in turn and say “I am Spartacus.” The movie stars try very hard and the in-your-face closeups grab viewers by the lapels, but it doesn't work for a simple reason.

Trumbo’s purpose, like that of this film, is not to reveal but conceal. He’s an elephantine writer, full of wind and freighted with pompous filler. I saw this film in Berkeley, and outside of a chuckle during Trumbo’s meditation on masturbation, nobody clapped or even cheered.

One reading the actors skipped is from Trumbo’s novel, The Remarkable Andrew, in which the ghost of President Andrew Jackson appears from the dead and argues against an alliance with England. “There’s no point in cooking up an alliance with a country that’s already licked,” Jackson says. This came out during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which is when Trumbo joined the Communist Party USA, at the very time when many others were bailing out. At the time the Nazis and Communists were working together against the Allies, so Dalton Trumbo had to be a special kind of person to prostitute his talent.

That is not explained here, and the Communist Party gets only a few lines, including Trumbo's quip that its members were no more dangerous than the Elks, which received one laugh from a member of the Berkeley audience. Just for the record, it was members of the Communist Party USA, not the Elks, who handed American nuclear secrets to Stalin, the worst mass murderer in history, who is not mentioned a single time in Trumbo.

It is because of the Communists and their fellow travelers and the vile ethos of betraying your country for your friends that Serpico is one of the most important movies of the '70s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 20, 2008 7:56 AM
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