Are you now or have you ever been interested in the Hollywood blacklist? If so, you might want to check out Trumbo, Peter Askin's documentary portrait of one of its most prominent victims. When he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriter, author of such movies as Kitty Foyle and A Guy Named Joe. He'd also been a member of the Communist Party during World War II, when the Soviet Union was our chief ally. But he refused to name names (i.e., reveal the identities of any other party members) and, along with the rest of the Hollywood 10, was sent to prison for contempt of Congress. It was after getting out of prison when things got unbearably tough, however. Banned for life from working in the film industry, Trumbo became a social leper, a man without a country.
He also became one of the most eloquent witnesses to political repression that this country has ever produced. The letters Trumbo wrote to friends, family members and whoever else was lucky enough to get one constitute a veritable treasure trove of wit and insight. And Trumbo draws from this bottomless well over and over again, via dramatized readings by such actors as David Strathairn, Liam Neeson, Paul Giamatti and Nathan Lane. (Lane's riff on masturbation, which Trumbo sent to his teenage son, is worth the price of admission.) As an added bonus, there's Trumbo himself, courtesy of various interviews he gave before his death in 1976. Everybody keeps talking about what a contrarian he was, and that's undoubtedly true. But what mostly comes through here, both in the letters and in person, is an ebullient man who kept the spark of liberty going in one of America's darkest hours.