The Front

The Front

name = The Front

caption = Theatrical release poster.
director = Martin Ritt
producer = Charles H. Joffe
Jack Rollins
writer = Walter Bernstein
starring = Woody Allen
Zero Mostel
Michael Murphy
Andrea Marcovicci
Danny Aiello
Herschel Bernardi
Remak Ramsay
distributor = Columbia Pictures
released = September 17, 1976
runtime = 95 min
language = English
imdb_id = 0074554
music = Dave Grusin
cinematography = Michael Chapman
awards =
budget =

"The Front" (1976), written by Walter Bernstein, directed by Martin Ritt and featuring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel, is a film about the United States entertainment business during the reign of McCarthyism, when many actors, writers, directors, and others, were professionally blacklisted (rendered un-employable) for supposed subversive, anti-American political activities after investigation and interrogation by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).

The filmmakers — screenwriter Bernstein, director Ritt, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough — were all victims of the Hollywood blacklist (the name of each in the closing credits is followed by "(Blacklisted 19xx)"); Bernstein was listed after being named in the FBI-published “Red Channels” journal that identified alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers.

Possibly in the interest of legal protection, "The Front" is about the television and nightclub blacklist, rather than the Hollywood Blacklist; surprising, since the credits include a half-a-dozen artists who had suffered the blacklist.

Plot summary

Howard Prince (Woody Allen) is a small-time bookie who signs his name to the television scripts of Alfred Miller, his blacklisted friend. Using a front was a tactic of several of the Hollywood Ten in order to earn a living. "The Front" occurs in the early 1950s, in New York City, where Howard is a restaurant cashier and a bookie. One day, his friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy), an unemployable, for being blacklisted, screenwriter asks him to become his front, signing his name to scripts submitted to a television network.

Howard is an apolitical man who needs money, so he immediately agrees. As he becomes "a success", in the superficially materialistic 1950s sense, Miller’s other friends hire him as their front. Contemporaneously, the blacklisting — the professional humiliation, personal destruction, and death — of established comic actor Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel) exemplifies McCarthyism's true, impotent nature — the mediocre destroying the talented.

As Howard witnesses the low, terrible actions of the right-wing “Freedom Information Services”, the privately-owned, vetting "business" of an ex-FBI policeman, the harsh reality of his friends' lives, living and working in secrecy, because of past beliefs and leftist-liberal politics forces Howard to take a stand. In the event, he is subpoenaed to testify before a HUAC committee informed with gossip- and innuendo-based "intelligence" from “Freedom Information Services”. After briefly enduring HUAC mental torture — including being asked to speak ill of the dead Hecky Brown, Howard acts.

Critical response

Critical reception of "The Front" was divided between those who thought it effectively and amusingly dealt with the topic of McCarthyism, and those who thought it a superficial gloss instead of a pithy, strong statement about the McCarthy era. In 1976, reviewing it for the "New York Times", Vincent Canby acknowledged the film's lack of direct political commentary: "The Front" is not the whole story of an especially unpleasant piece of American history. It may be faulted for oversimplification. Mr. Ritt and Mr. Bernstein, both veterans of the blacklist, are not interested in subtleties. Yet, even in its comic moments, "The Front" works on the conscience. It recreates the awful noise of ignorance that can still be heard". (Canby, 1976) He said that, while the film does not directly attack or address the political era, it does communicate its message: Do not rat on people. fact|date=October 2007 Furthermore, he emphasised that "The Front" encourages the viewer to understand the emotional consequences of blacklisting and finger-pointing, by telling the experience of a single man.

Roger Ebert, on the other hand, dismissed the political value of "The Front": "What we get are the adventures of a schlemiel in wonderland". He felt that the Woody Allen character was too comic and unconvincing a writer to represent the true nature of "front" writers. He added, however, that Hecky Brown was a worthwhile character: "The tragedy implied by this character tells us what we need to know about the blacklist's effect on people's lives; the rest of the movie adds almost nothing else". (Ebert, 1976)

In 2000, author Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley wrote that "The Front" and other Hollywood movies about McCarthyism whitewashed the historical context in which it occurred: "Viewers of such fare could easily conclude that communism scarcely existed except as a source of boundless optimism in the hearts of the country's most creative writers." [ [ Hollywood's Missing Movies] , Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, "Reason", June 2000]


For "The Front", Walter Bernstein was nominated for the 1977 Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay and Zero Mostel was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.


External links

*imdb title|id=0074554|title=The Front
* [ McCarthyism and the Movies]
* [ Rogert Ebert's Review of "The Front"]

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