Based on Christopher Trumbo's stage play about his father, the writer Dalton Trumbo, Peter Askin's powerful documentary serves as an important reminder of our First Amendment rights, and a tribute to one man who fought to preserve them in the face of Congressional intimidation. The author of the classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun and a slew of classic...read more
Based on Christopher Trumbo's stage play about his father, the writer Dalton Trumbo, Peter Askin's powerful documentary serves as an important reminder of our First Amendment rights, and a tribute to one man who fought to preserve them in the face of Congressional intimidation. The author of the classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun and a slew of classic screenplays (KITTY FOYLE, THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO, GUN CRAZY, SPARTACUS), Trumbo is perhaps best remembered as a member of the so-called Hollywood Ten, the group of screenwriters and directors who, in 1947, were among those called to appear before the communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. All ten refused to answer any of the committee's questions, citing the First Amendment-granted rights to free speech and assembly, and all were charged with contempt of Congress. Torn from his wife, Cleo, and their three children, Trumbo served 11 months in a federal penitentiary in Kentucky, but even after his release, his punishment for defying HUAC's red-baiting witch hunt continued. Still refusing to answer the committee's questions and name the names of suspected fellow travelers, Trumbo found himself on Hollywood's self-imposed blacklist and denied work for the next twelve years. Upon his death in 1976, Trumbo -- a writer to the bone -- left behind a wealth of correspondence that served as the basis of son Christopher's play, and with some more standard documentary additions like talking head interviews with friends, family and colleagues, the heart of Askin's film. Through dramatic readings of his letters by the likes of David Strathairn, Paul Giamatti, Joan Allen, Nathan Lane and Liam Neeson -- letters Trumbo wrote to his wife, his friends, the phone company and, most poignant of all, the grieving mother of an old war buddy who later served as one of Trumbo's "fronts" when he couldn't write under his own name -- we get the true measure of a brilliant, profane, abrasive, funny and highly principled man who was truly "American" in the best sense of the word, and was nearly destroyed by "patriots" as a result. Released into theaters when acts of Congress have once again begun to chip away at Constitutional guarantees, and certain pundits have begun to re-evaluate HUAC's Senator Joseph McCarthy's "contribution" to keeping America safe, this hard-nosed look at the grim realities of the blacklist is as timely as ever.
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