Dalton Trumbo and American evil





No one has ever summed up the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s -- and, by extension, the entire history of that decade's anti-Communist witch hunt -- any better than this:

"The blacklist was a time of evil. No one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides. It will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims. Some suffered less than others, some grew or were diminished, but in the final tally we were all victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things he did not want to do, to deliver and receive wounds he truly did not want to exchange. That is why none of us -- right, left, or center -- emerged from that long nightmare without sin."

Those words were spoken by Dalton Trumbo in 1971, when he received a lifetime achievement award from the Writers Guild of America -- as he noted at the time, an award bestowed by those who had fought for him, those who had betrayed him and those who had only the vaguest notion who he was. In "Trumbo," the new film directed by Peter Askin and adapted from Christopher Trumbo's off-Broadway play about his father, the speech is given an electrifying reading by actor David Strathairn. "Trumbo" is a terrific picture, a blend of interviews and archival footage and readings of Trumbo's letters and speeches (by Strathairn, Michael Douglas, Joan Allen, Paul Giamatti, Brian Dennehy and others) that vividly illustrates why the blacklist remains an urgent issue 60 years later. One could wish it were a bit more honest about the sources of Trumbo's obvious mixed feelings about himself and his fellow leftists. (Perhaps Christopher Trumbo's forthcoming book will address this.)...

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