Dalton got his gold
A radiant early spring morning to you. We’re supposed to have somewhat sunny skies and
temperatures from 10 to 15 C. (50 to 60 F.) here this weekend. I hope everyone celebrating
Easter and Passover finds extra significance in this rebirth of hope. Jude and I plan to honour
the holidays by planting blueberry bushes.
Last weekend we watched Spartacus. I had never seen it and Jude hadn’t for a long time.
This is the film that Stanley Kubrick made his bones with. I tried with some sincerity to see
why it’s considered a classic. It had well-choreographed battle scenes, Noble Messages and
a cast more populous than Mumbai.
But it also had some unfortunate miscasting, woeful acting and klutzy dialogue. One of the
major male leads had a voice similar to Motel-6-shill Tom Bodett’s. The guy who trained
Sparty to be a gladiator looked and sounded like Red Green. Some of the Roman names
were almost as silly as “Biggus Dickus” from The Life of Brian. The film’s money shot — the
“I’m Spartacus!” scene — held no mojo for me because I’d first seen it in a Pepsi commercial.
What did impress me, though, was that the creator of the sometimes klunky screenplay was
Dalton Trumbo, the author of Johnnie Got His Gun, the brilliant anti-war novel. At the time
of the film’s release, 1960, Trumbo was a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of directors
and writers who had been blacklisted for their involvement in the Communist Party USA.
The Ten had been called before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947
to answer questions about the influence of communism in the film industry. They all refused
to cooperate and were sentenced to prison. Trumbo served 11 months.
Banned from working in Hollywood, he moved to Mexico after serving his time. He wrote
30 film scripts there under pseudonyms. The Red Scare continued to flourish in the states,
brought to a peak in 1950 when U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy claimed he had the names of
Communists and Soviet spies entrenched in the federal government.
McCarthy craftily exploited post-war paranoia, but never proved his assertions. After
four years of his demagogery, his power on the Hill began to wane. In December, 1954,
the Senate voted to censure him for his antics. The vote was 67 to 22. One senator not
voting was John F. Kennedy, who was in the hospital for back surgery.
McCarthyism started to decline. Trumbo won an Oscar in 1956 for The Brave One, but it
was under the nom de plume Robert Rich. It wasn’t until 1975 that the Academy officially
In 1960, Trumbo got credit for writing the screenplay for Exodus, at the behest of director
Otto Preminger. Then Kirk Douglas acknowledged that Trumbo had written Spartacus.
Newly-elected President Kennedy crossed an anti-communist picket line to attend the film.
These events marked the beginning of the end for the Hollywood blacklisting.
Trumbo directed the screen version of Johnny Got His Gun in 1971. Portions of it were used
in a Metallica video in 1989. He died of a heart attack in 1976 and donated his body to science.
He received his final accolade in 1993 when the Academy posthumously awarded him an
Oscar for writing Roman Holiday, which had been released 40 years earlier. The screen
credit and award had originally gone to Ian McClellan Hunter, who had fronted for Trumbo.