If there is one thing that depresses me as much as some of the programming by exhibitors it is some of the published criticisms of the films themselves. Trumbo (USA 2015) is essentially a biopic of one of the Hollywood Ten, the victims of the House Un-American Activities Committee of the US Congress, the heads of the major Hollywood Studios, cranky right-wingers who presumably would now be members of the Tea Party, and quite a few members of the film industry who owed their careers and their profits to this group, predominately writers of scripts.
The Guardian review (05-02-16), by Peter Bradshaw, opens on this
“heartfelt, stolid picture about an important period in American history”
and adds this peculiar comment,
“the petty Maoism of 1950s Hollywood…”
In fact, the target of this hysteria was the Communist Party USA who, by the late 1940s, were not even Leninist, let alone Maoist. Presumably Bradshaw or his editor thought the epithet would make a change from their regular target, Uncle Joe.
At least there is a greater sense of history and politics in the interview of the star Bryan Cranston by John Patterson. They do add the point made in the end titles of the film, that the victims of this witch-hunt came from all professions and all walks of life. I was a little surprised to find out recently that our own Richard Attenborough was honoured by inclusion in what was known as ‘the blacklist’. The latter term is slightly unfortunate given this is the period of a rising Civil Rights movement.
To be honest the production team, and certainly quite a few of the critics, should read the excellent
The Inquisition in Hollywood Politics in the Film Community, 1930 – 1960 by Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, University of California Press 1979.
I also recommend it to our readers interested in the topic or indeed who just see the film.
Whatever its limitations Trumbo is a worthy addition to the films dealing with what became popularly known as ‘McCarthyism’. Intriguingly it offers a rather different slant on Woody Allen’s The Front (1976). And for a parallel story watch, [if you can], BBC Screen 2’s Fellow Traveller (1991).
Yes. ‘Fellow Traveller’ was a superb if little-noticed film in its day, and one that would struggle to get a screening nowadays as most films slightly off the beaten track do.
Bradshaw’s review is certainly very odd – and slipshod. I enjoyed the film as entertainment and, rather than ‘stolid’, I found it aroused a range of emotions. Perhaps it made sense to stick to Trumbo’s own story, even if I would have liked more or on the wider historical narrative. Given Trumbo was such an acknowledged ‘great screenwriter’ it would have been good to be taken through some of the screenwriting process.
I was surprised that there was no mention of ‘moving to the UK’ even though one of the 10, Edward Dmytryk, seemingly made three British pictures in 1947-48.