TORONTO — In the years immediately following World War II, America was gripped by what has come to be called the “Red Scare,” the belief that communists had infiltrated both the U.S. government at the highest levels — and Hollywood.
An investigation of high-profile filmmakers, writers and actors led to the not-so-unofficial establishment of the “Blacklist.” That amounted to admitted or suspected members of the Communist Party being banned from working in the movie business.
One of the best known and highest paid victims of the blacklisting was Dalton Trumbo, who had gained fame for writing such screenplays as “Kitty Foyle” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Shunned by the studios, he eventually re-emerged and wrote (sometimes under a pseudonym) “Roman Holiday,” “Exodus” “Spartacus” and “The Brave One.”
In “Trumbo” (opening Friday), Bryan Cranston plays the title role, in a performance already is stirring award buzz for the actor.
In an interview, Cranston reflected on how the scary times of the 1950s — when Trumbo’s refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee led him to be imprisoned — has relevance today.
“It was a dark time in American history back then, but it has universal appeal to what’s happening today. Back then we saw First Amendment rights set aside, and the overreach of power from the House Un-American Activities Committee and the McCarthy hearings.
“To demand that a citizen of the United States — under the threat of imprisonment — had to answer questions like, ‘Were you ever a member of a certain party? Who did you vote for? Who are you seeing? What is your religion?’ — all that is none of anyone’s business.
“The whole foundation of our country is based on those freedoms, and they were temporarily discarded.
“But now those challenges to our freedoms seem to be recycling back up. Look at the NSA and their blanket ability to wiretap. It’s just not right.”
Cranston recognizes that we do live in new and very dangerous times. “We do need to be concerned about security and that has to be paramount. But you cannot just ignore the freedoms the forefathers fought for.”
In the film, Cranston has some great moments going head-to-head with Helen Mirren, who plays the powerful Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, a leading advocate for the Blacklist.
As Cranston explained, “Hedda Hopper was an extreme right-wing person, but I think she was true to her beliefs, as was another noted archconservative, John Wayne, who we also see in the film.
“This highlights the real story of Trumbo the man. The point is, even though you may agree or disagree with either side, we all have the right to say it.
“As Trumbo says in the film, ‘We all have the right to be wrong.’ “