“Nobody admits there’s a blacklist — I mean, they just say your script’s not good enough, you’re not right for the assignment, that kind of thing.”
In the 1950s, an apolitical cashier (Woody Allen) agrees to act as a “front” for his blacklisted friend (Michael Murphy) and two other television writers, taking 10% of their earnings as commission. Soon he finds himself in a sticky situation, as his activities are monitored by HUAC and he’s asked to “name names”.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s clearly an enormous fan of this “excellent, often forgotten little picture” (written by Walter Bernstein, directed by Martin Ritt, and starring Woody Allen) — enough so that he names it the Best Picture of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, and lists no “runners-up”. He writes that it’s “humbly, gently, humorously made”, with “much ironic humor com[ing] from the absurdity of the situation, where a man can be blacklisted if the committee gets his name mixed up with that of a ‘leftist sympathizer’ and he can’t clear himself unless he can name names”. He adds that “despite the film’s friendly tone, viewers get a sense of the paranoia, desperation, and insanity of the period, and come to understand why those who were blacklisted — like Bernstein and Ritt” (and several actors in the film, including Zero Mostel) “still detest those who gave testimony during the fifties witchhunt”. He concludes his review by noting that the “film is a tribute to those who took moral stands during that time”.
While I agree with Peary that The Front remains a powerful and riveting drama — one which all film fanatics should see, simply for its important subject matter — it’s not quite “best picture” material; it eventually devolves into comedically melodramatic fairy tale territory in its final reels, and the romantic subplot between Allen and a beautiful television employee (Andrea Marcovicci) feels underdeveloped. The most affecting aspect of the film is the subplot involving comedy actor “Hecky Brown” (Mostel), whose situation most succinctly embodies the true paranoia of the period. His inability to remain employed after being unable (or unwilling) to “name names” sends him on a degrading downward spiral; Mostel’s performance is both brave and visceral in its depiction of Hecky’s despair and resignation. Allen gives a fine performance as well, playing a variation on his typical character (his “Howie” is “a funny guy, which makes him appealing” to his girlfriend and Hecky), yet one who undergoes a profound shift in political awareness.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Woody Allen as Howard Prince (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
- Zero Mostel as Hecky Brown
Yes, as a powerful evocation of a notorious era in Hollywood.