Steven Spielberg, Steve Zaillian, Javier Bardem looking to resurrect Dalton Trumbo's 50-year old Montezuma script

4 min read

As he’s helped Indiana Jones to raid a few tombs in his day, Steven Spielberg undoubtedly knows all about unearthing old treasures, and it looks like that’s exactly what he’s thinking of doing again. The Oscar winning director is reportedly circling a script written by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo 50 years ago, about “the kinship and ultimately the bloody collision between Montezuma and Cortez as the latter led the Spanish infiltration into Mexico”.


Trumbo had been one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of Tinsel Town personalities who ended up doing jail time and being banned from working in Hollywood after they refused to testify during the House Un-American Activities Committee’s communist witch hunt in the late 1940’s. This essentially rendered him persona non grata in the biz, but he eventually rose to some fame (or infamy, depending on your opinion of his political views back then) once again in 1960 when it was revealed that he had actually penned the script for the Kirk Douglas classic, Spartacus, effectively ending the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo was also officially recognized as the writer of and awarded the Oscar for The Brave One which he had penned under a pseudonym while banned, and in 1993 was also awarded an Oscar posthumously for The Roman Holiday which had originally been awarded to writer Ian McLellan Hunter, who had actually just been a front for Trumbo.

After the revelation of his involvement with Spartacus, he would write the 205-page script for his Montezuma epic with the intent of Douglas starring and Martin Ritt directing, but it would never get off the ground, leaving it as one of Hollywood’s greatest unfilmed scripts. Until now.

Deadline reports that Spielberg will be reuniting with his Schindler’s List scribe Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, American Gangster) who will be coming up with a new draft of Trumbo’s script, which will now maybe be called Cortez, in accordance with the reported shifting of the script’s focus to the titular Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez, who according to Deadline will be played by Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

The shift of focus certainly makes sense as the famed Spaniard’s story is certainly an epic one which would work perfectly with the type of sweeping film Spielberg is capable of: In 1519, Cortez led the Spanish infiltration into Mexico on a quest for gold and silver. He would meet with and later befriend Montezuma, the Aztec leader, and would stay as Montezuma’s guest for a long time. This of course after his people helped to spread the Christian religion as well as all kinds of diseases like smallpox to the South American people, and stationed a large army there, much to the Aztec nobility’s ever increasing ire.

While Cortez was away to deal with another Spaniard, an Aztec temple massacre coupled with the Spanish’s aggressive infiltration eventually led to outright bloody conflict between the two peoples, with Montezuma being captured as a hostage. According to some reports the Spaniards forced Montezuma to address his people, asking them to surrender, which angered his people so much that they turned on their leader and killed him. Cortez returned to get caught up in the war, torn between his close friendship with Montezuma (whose daughter he would eventually father a child with) and his loyalty to his Spanish countrymen.

With a story this big, it will probably be some time before we will see Spielberg tackling it, especially as he already has quite the full plate at the moment, and still has his currently shelved Robopocalypse to pick up again at some time. Whenever it does come together though, this has the potential to be a major contender awards contender.

Last Updated: January 9, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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