Trumbo’s long-lost script may be next film for Spielberg

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Western Colorado,

The Hollywood press is buzzing with the tantalizing news that the famously unproduced screenplay “Montezuma,” by Grand Valley native Dalton Trumbo, may be the next project for the partnership of director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Steve Zaillian, whose last collaboration was the remarkable “Schindler’s List.”

Leading entertainment website was the first to report that the project might be Spielberg’s next directorial vehicle later this year. The L.A. Times called “Montezuma” “one of Hollywood’s great unmade movies.”

Reports say Spanish actor Javier Bardem is the likely lead in the potential film, playing explorer Hernando Cortes, who infiltrated Mexico in the 16th century, striking up a friendship with the Aztec ruler Montezuma before brutally conquering the native population.

It’s the stuff of epic legend, and the potential of the story being the backbone of a high-budget production by Spielberg’s DreamWorks production company is obvious.

It was the fact that the filming of Trumbo’s “Montezuma” would have required such a huge production budget in 1965 that likely doomed the promising script, said Trumbo biographer Larry Ceplair.

Ceplair said the momentum to make “Montezuma” likely stalled because it followed “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor, widely regarded as an epic production failure because of its incredible cost to make.

“That was hugely expensive, and that might have poisoned the well,” said Ceplair, who has a biography of Grand Valley native Dalton Trumbo coming out later this fall.

Ceplair said that “Montezuma” was written for Springfield Productions, a business venture between Trumbo and Eugene Frenke. They sold the “Montezuma” script to Bryna Productions, Kirk Douglas’ film company, for $150,000.

Douglas and Trumbo had earlier teamed on the film “Spartacus” — Trumbo’s first official screen credit after famously being blacklisted for years in Hollywood, because of his failure to testify before congressional Communist witch-hunters.

“Spartacus” producer and Trumbo friend Eddie Lewis thought he had a deal to make “Montezuma,” but it eventually fell through, Ceplair said.

The accomplished director John Huston was apparently set to direct the film, and Huston later told Trumbo biographer Bruce Cook that “Montezuma” was the one film he most regrets having fallen through.

“It was a beautiful script,” Huston is quoted as saying. “It would have made a beautiful picture.”

It still might, if the Spielberg-Zaillian partnership comes to celluloid reality.

The report in the L.A. Times, however, notes that the past two projects Spielberg has been set to direct have fallen through for one reason or another.


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