'Montezuma': Castle in the air or next Steven Spielberg movie (or some time in the future)?
Will Steven Spielberg next tackle the life and times of Aztec king Montezuma, from a screenplay by none other than former Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo? If so, that won't be the first time that Spielberg has adapted a Trumbo screenplay (more on that below). Anyhow, following Lincoln, which earned Spielberg his seventh Best Director Academy Award nomination, the Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan filmmaker has had his name attached to – and then detached from – a couple of projects.
First, there was Drew Goddard's adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson's novel Robopocalypse, which isn't a RoboCop spin-off but a sci-fier about a smart robot who reaches the (perfectly logical) conclusion that the only way to save the planet is to get rid of human beings.
Robopocalypse, however, was set aside so Spielberg could focus on the Warner Bros. project American Sniper, to be produced by Bradley Cooper, who would also star in the title role as a Navy SEAL sniper who shot dead more than 150 people and who was himself shot dead by a fellow war veteran supposedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But then Spielberg dropped out of the project, reportedly due to budget-related issues.
And now, reports Deadline.com, enters Montezuma, based on a 48-year-old screenplay by Dalton Trumbo that is currently being rewritten by Steven Zaillian. In case the project does get off the ground, Montezuma is to be produced by Zaillian, with Academy Award winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) rumored to star as Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes a.k.a. Hernán Cortés, whose point of view is depicted in the screenplay. (Note: Zaillian's Exodus, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Christian Bale as Moses, has little in common with Otto Preminger's 1960 Exodus, a flag-waving political drama about the birth of the State of Israel, which Dalton Trumbo adapted from Leon Uri's novel.)
Originally written in 1965 for Kirk Douglas, with whom Dalton Trumbo collaborated on Spartacus (1960) and Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Montezuma was to have been directed by Martin Ritt (Hud, Norma Rae). The project never got off the ground, possibly because Kirk Douglas' box office power dwindled rather rapidly in the late '60s.
Dalton Trumbo: Oscar-winning blacklisted screenwriter
Dalton Trumbo's screenwriting career went from 1936 to 1971. Among his most important movie credits are the screenplays (solo or in collaboration) for Sam Wood's Kitty Foyle (1940), which earned Ginger Rogers a Best Actress Oscar; Victor Fleming's World War II blockbuster fantasy A Guy Named Joe (1943), starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson – and which Steven Spielberg remade as Always in 1989; and Joseph H. Lewis' cult classic film noir Gun Crazy (1949), with Jon Dall and Peggy Cummins.
During his years as a blacklisted screenwriter, two Dalton Trumbo efforts (solo or in collaboration) won Academy Awards: Roman Holiday (1953), directed by William Wyler, and starring Gregory Peck and Best Actress Oscar winner Audrey Hepburn (Trumbo received no screen credit); and, billed as “Robert Rich,” The Brave One (1956), directed by Irving Rapper, and featuring Michael Ray as a Mexican boy who tries to save his adopted pet bull from certain death at the bullfighting ring.
Trumbo's The Brave One win made Oscar history, as the shamefaced Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences belatedly discovered that its members had selected an original story written by a nonexistent screenwriter – rumored to have been a front for a blacklistee. (Blacklisted screenwriters were banned not only from working in Hollywood, but also from being nominated for Academy Awards.)
Dalton Trumbo came back with the 1960 releases Exodus and Spartacus. Among his movie credits of the 1960s were the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton melodrama The Sandpiper (1965) and John Frankenheimer's political drama The Fixer (1968), featuring Alan Bates and Dirk Bogarde. Trumbo would direct only one movie, the brilliant anti-war drama Johnny Got His Gun (1971), starring Timothy Bottoms. He died at age 70 in 1976 in Los Angeles.