Liberal movie critic Stephen Holden reviewed aworshipful documentary of Dalton Trumbo, the infamous screenwriter and member of the American Communist Party and most famous member of the Hollywood Ten, the Communist screenwriters and directors "blacklisted" by Congress and Hollywood studio heads. In Friday's "When an Eloquent Voice was Stilled in Hollywood," Holden claimed Holden merely "dabbled" or "flirted" with Communism -yet for some reason Trumbo joined the Communist Party in 1943.
The Times has praised Trumbo before, invariably ignoring the so-called free speech martyr's past as an FBI informant for the cause of Soviet Stalinism. As Glenn Garvin revealed inthe April2004 issue of Reason magazine, Trumbo forwarded to the FBI letters from erstwhile fans who opposed American involvement in World War II (when the U.S. and Soviet Russia were allied against Hitler), writing to the government: "I share with the men of your organization a sincere desire to see an end to all such seditious propaganda as criminal slander of the Commander in Chief, defeatism, pacifism, anti-Semitism and all similar deceits and stratagems designed to assist the German cause."
The hypocrisy is particularly pungent, given that Trumbo won the National Book Award in 1939 for his pacifist novel "Johnny Got His Gun," a hit with the Communist Party during the Hitler-Stalin pact (August 1939-June 1941), as writer Art Eckstein reveals.
Holden, apparently ignorant to all this, took the standard liberal line of glorifying the Stalin supporter:
Peter Askin's stirring documentary "Trumbo" gives you reasons to cheer but also to weep. It makes you lament the decline of the kind of language brandished with Shakespearean eloquence by Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, in his witty, impassioned letters excerpted in the movie.
Holden made the usual bows to liberal conventional wisdom about the horrors of the blacklist, which cost some Communist screenwriters jobs they wouldn't have in the society they envisioned anyway (while not sparing a thought about the actual human victims of the ideology they promoted):
If the story of the Hollywood blacklist and the lives it destroyed has been told many times before, it still bears repeating, especially in the post-9/11 climate of fearmongering, of Guantánamo, of flag pins as gauges of patriotism.
"Trumbo," which Dalton Trumbo's son, Christopher, adapted from his own 2003 Off Broadway play of the same name, is much richer than its source, which originally starred Nathan Lane as Trumbo. It is a portrait of this notoriously cantankerous and combative writer as a noble champion of free speech who was willing to lose everything to defend his principles.
Beginning in 1950, Trumbo spent 11 months in prison for defying the House Un-American Activities Committee three years earlier by refusing to identify colleagues in the movie business who, like him, had dabbled with Communism. Trumbo joined the American Communist Party in 1943.
If only the movers and shakers of Hollywood 13 years earlier had stood together like the slaves in "Spartacus" and all claimed to have been Communists, the blacklist might have been averted. But they didn't. Fear can make people instant cowards and informers. Resisting it may be the ultimate test of character.
Today few would dispute Trumbo's assessment of that very dark period: "The blacklist was a time of evil, and no one who survived it on either side came through untouched by evil."
So Communism wasn't evil, but some Communist screenwriters being unable to work in Hollywood for awhile was?