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James J  Cremin Written by James J Cremin
May. 22, 2009 | 11:42 AM

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A Dalton Trumbo tribute with Johnny Got Your Gun and Lonely Are the Brave

On May 21, 2009, the American Cinematheque kicked off a three day tribute to one of the most fascinating screenwriters ever.  The movies shown were “Johnny Got Your Gun” and “Lonely Are The Brave.”

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) actually is best remembered as one of the Hollywood Ten who were arrested in 1947 and upon release, was blacklisted throughout the fifties.  In fact, through a front Robert Rich, he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1956 for “The Brave One.”

Trumbo was finally able to use his own name when he wrote adaptations on two epics that were released in 1960.  In fact, May 22 will show “Spartacus”  that was produced and starred Kirk Douglas and directed by Stanley Kubrick, which has played at the Egyptian Theatre severally times before.  It was and still is a very daring film of its time that chronicles a slave leading a failed uprising against the Roman Empire.  “I Am Spartacus”, screamed by many to frustrate the Romans remains one of the most famous rallying scenes in cinema.

The other epic that will be screened on May 23 is “Exodus” that was directed Otto Preminger and starred Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint.  The focus of this film was the establishment of a Jewish state and the American and British support of making that happen.  This film is also remembered as possibly showcasing Sal Mineo’s best performance who has to wrestle with his conscious on several issues.  This has also enjoyed screenings at the Cinematheque, most recently during a Preminger film festival.

But Trumbo’s own pet project was “Johnny Got Your Gun.”  He wrote the novel in 1938 whose main character had no eyes, ears, mouth, arms or legs due to injuries obtained from a bomb explosion in the battlefield.  He himself suppressed the novel when he found out the evil that Nazi Germany was doing.  The novel was republished in the late sixties and was very much supported by the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War.

In 1971, Trumbo directed for the first and only time “Johnny Got Your Gun.”  Martin Lewis presided over the discussion with Marsha Hunt before and after the screening.  Also, after the screening they were joined by cinematographer Jules Brenner and associate producer/assistant director Christopher Trumbo.

Hunt recalled the blacklist very vividly and her own husband served as a front for several writers, an act that did require courage.  If caught, the front could never work in the industry again.  She was barely in the finished film.  Scenes she remembered doing were excised for the final cut.  As it was an independent production and not a financial success, it’s very likely those scenes are gone forever.

Brenner recalled the effects that due remain in the film.  Color was used for the memory and the fantasy sequences and black and white was used for the present reality sequences.  The fantasy scenes were originally conceived by Luis Brunuel, who was first slated to direct the picture.  But the surrealist Spanish director and Trumbo had disagreements and Trumbo took over.
This was such a personal project for Dalton that the bedroom where Jason Robards’s character dies, he played Joe’s father, is the same bedroom where Dalton’s own father had died.

Christopher Trumbo was thirty years old when he took on the dual responsibilities of associate producer and assistant director.  He was very proud to have had such an active participation in his father’s film.  He recalled producer Bruce Campbell quite fondly.  There was a huge casting call for Joe the main character.  Tim Matheson and Phil Proctor were strongly considered before deciding upon Timothy Bottoms.  Hunt thought Tim’s voiceover as the severely disabled vet outstanding.  She closed the discussion by saying the living dead is the ultimate nightmare and that’s all war is.

“Lonely Are The Brave” is also a rarity.  While “Johnny” was only released on dvd a month ago, parts of it were part of a Metallica video in 1989.  “Lonely” has not enjoyed that attention and currently not available.

That may change due to the fact that there are many familiar faces in the 1962 film written by Trumbo and directed by David Miller.  Star Kirk Douglas has called this his favorite role.  A young and slim Gena Rowlands played his girlfriend.  Walter Matthau played the sheriff who leads the manhunt against Douglas.  In smaller parts are deputy William Schallert who shares a running gag with Matthau, truck driver Caroll O’Connor, sadistic prison guard George Kennedy and helicopter policeman Bill Bixby.

However, the movie is flawed though very watchable.  The motivation as to why Kirk Douglas would want to break into jail to see his friend Michael Kane is very confused.  When Kane refuses to break out of prison, Douglas is forced to hightail over the mountains to escape.  Douglas is the only character seen who travels by horse, making him an anachronism to the modern day this cowboy lives in.

In fact, he’s shown to be a rebel right away by cutting a barbed wire fence though no explanation of why is given.  The real highlight of the film is Douglas attempting to escape with his horse.  When Matthau sees him through his binoculars, he remarks that he might make it without the horse.  Seeing Douglas and the horse struggle through landslides and intense climbing is quite a sight to behold.  As it has to, it ends very sadly for the antiestablishment anti-hero.

And that basically what Dalton Trumbo was.  A fitting tribute.

First Comment:

  1. to telos tou ‘Savvato vrady..’ ontws mou eixe meinei aksetasxo otan to prwtodiavasa kai to thewrousa apo ta kalitera finale pou exw diavaseioso gia kati pou diavasa teleutaia,an kai diavazw peri ta dyo bilbia tin imera tis teleutaies vdomades, nomizw to overload de mou epitrapei na stathw se ena..nevermind

    Posted by Philippe on 06/16 at 09:26 PM