Bespectacled and mustachioed Bryan Cranston as famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, submerged in the bath, his work, smokes and whiskey laid out on a tray bestride the tub is a hilarious image of a writer at work. In Jay Roach's new movie Trumbo, his heyday in Hollywood, testimony before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the '50's red scare, prison term, and post-prison career fronting scripts, play like a cartoon of a world gone mad. Surrounding him are a loving family, with wife Cleo (Diane Lane), daughter Niki (Elle Fanning), like-minded friends Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), B-movie mogul Frank King (John Goodman) and enemies including gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) who considered him a traitor. But lest this entertainment seem frivolous, some real issues regarding democracy, freedom of speech, rise to the fore.
At lunch at 21, Roach and stars Cranston and Lane joined Walter Bernstein for a panel discussing Trumbo's life and work in the context of the government's witchhunt against those who affiliated themselves with the Communist Party. Diners included many whose lives had been touched during this fraught time including Michael Douglas whose father Kirk Douglas insisted that Dalton Trumbo not only write the script for Spartacus, but have his name on it, and Lee Grant, whose acting career from age 24 till 36 was halted because she had read the eulogy of a blacklisted writer. Her memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, limns these fraught times, not for sissies, an idea corroborated by Dick Cavett and others. Walter Bernstein wrote the script for The Front, a movie starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel about the blacklist. "People you loved," he said, "crossed the street to avoid greeting you."
The next night, after a screening at MoMA, the crowd spilled into Ristorante Villagio on the Park for a light repast. In a back nook, Helen Mirren chatted with Julie Taymor, Richard LaGravenese, and many others, her husband Taylor Hackford nearby. Mirren had been Prospera in Taymor's gender reversal on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Known for heroic roles, Mirren's Hopper is Trumbo's villain. When I commend her, You play bitch really well, she replies, "Yes, now there will be many new parts for me. But you know, at the time, she thought she was right, believing that Trumbo was a traitor. The lesson here: Make sure you are on the right side of history."
Carrying on, accepting accolades from admirers for his fine work, and perhaps under the influence of the special whiskey of the night, and nod to Trumbo, Manhattan Moonshine, Cranston sports a special lapel pin, a silver square featuring, what else, Trumbo's large eyeglasses, a cigarette accenting the mustache.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.