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Trumbo

After the title character is seen getting fired and blacklisted in the new movie Trumbo, I’m thinking, as most lawyers would, that he should sue! Dalton Trumbo was a highly paid screenwriter under contract to MGM at the time, and would seem to have a clear case of breach of contract. So why doesn’t he go to court to seek the damages that are presumably due him?

The answer comes later in the movie, after the legal strategy that the so-called “Hollywood 10” were pursuing in response to being cited for contempt of Congress, goes awry. That strategy, which relied on eventual reversal of the contempt finding by the Supreme Court, fell apart after Justice Rutledge, one of the Court’s liberals who the Hollywood 10 were counting on for reversal, passed away.

 

While fighting that legal battle, Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo is confronted by a composite character called Arlen Hird, played by Louis C.K., who stands in the movie for the more militant members of the group. Hird still thinks they should sue the studios who are enforcing the blacklist. At that point, Trumbo argues forcefully that filing suit would only lead to defeat. He recognizes that no matter how strong the legal arguments, the courts would undoubtedly find some way of denying their claim. He decides that it’s better not to fight that particular battle, than to fight and lose.

 

So what is the appropriate legal strategy for a character victimized by unjust and illegal actions, but unable to find recourse in the courts or the court of public opinion? The answer turns out to be laying low, biding his time, and resorting to subterfuge to survive. And eventually finding vindication.

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