Posted June 26, 2008 in Film

Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo—the pen behind Johnny Got His Gun, Spartacus, and Roman Holiday—died in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial. As writer and son Christopher and director Peter Askin frame him, it’s a fitting end to a vilified patriot. Blacklisted for communist sympathies (and his refusal to deny them), Trumbo was a man of virtuous politics and fiendish ways of expressing them. (A letter he wrote to the phone company jests, “When we Reds come to power we will shoot merchants in the following order . . . ”) His dedication to the First Amendment silenced Trumbo for over a decade, during which time he poured his frustration into a forest’s worth of letters, some read here by actors including Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, Josh Lucas, David Strathairn, Donald Sutherland, and Nathan Lane—the latter of whom wrestles with Trumbo’s vigorous defense of masturbation. After learning that the government planned to open concentration camps for radicals, he moved with his family and friends to Mexico where he wrote screenplays under thirteen pseudonyms from Hugo to Sally; in one of them, Robert Rich won an Oscar for The Brave One. The best way to learn about Trumbo is through his writing, which is spirited, dry, and utterly convinced of its truth. This doc smartly gives us plenty of Trumboisms (including Johnny’s devastating “You would have one cobbler kill another cobbler” pro-peace speech) and just enough biographical detail to want to read more of the man ourselves. (Amy Nicholson)



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