The Front: Wikis

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The Front

theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Charles H. Joffe
Jack Rollins
Written by Walter Bernstein
Starring Woody Allen
Zero Mostel
Michael Murphy
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography Michael Chapman
Editing by Sidney Levin
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) September 17, 1976 (US)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Front (1976), written by Walter Bernstein, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel, is a film about the blacklist during the age of live television. Because of the blacklist, a number of artists, writers, directors and others were rendered unemployable, having been accused of subversive political activities in support of Communism or of actually being Communists themselves.

The filmmakers — screenwriter Bernstein, director Ritt, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough — had all been blacklisted: the name of each in the closing credits is followed by "Blacklisted 19--" - providing the relevant year. Bernstein was listed after being named in the FBI-published Red Channels journal that identified alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers.

Contents

Plot summary

The Front occurs in the early 1950s, in New York City, telling the story of a small-time bookie who signs his name to the television scripts of a blacklisted friend. Using a front was a tactic of several of the Hollywood Ten in order to earn a living.

Howard Prince (Woody Allen) is a restaurant cashier and a bookie. One day, his friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy), a blacklisted - and thus unemployable - 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 agent, 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 questioning — including being asked to speak ill of the dead Hecky Brown, Howard ends the interview with a blatant act of defiance, which gets him arrested and convicted for contempt of congress, a punishment he accepts with pride.

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.[citation needed] 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)

Historical antecedents

The movie draws from real life incidents in its depiction of the characters. A scene in which Hecky (played by Mostel) goes to entertain at a mountain resort, and then is cheated out of part of his fee, is based on a real life incident described by Bernstein in his memoirs Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist. In the book, Bernstein describes how Mostel came to entertain at the Concord hotel in the Catskills, where he used to entertain as a rising comic, because he desperately needed the money. The manager of the Concord promised him $500 but, when he arrived, reduced that to $300, according to Bernstein. In the movie, Hecky has a violent scene when, after the performance, told that he is cheated. In real life, Mostel was told before the performance and acted out his hostility during the performance, by cursing at the customers, who thought it was part of the act.

The subsequent suicide of Hecky, shown in the film as his leaping from a hotel window, has a historical parallel in the suicide of blacklisted actor Philip Loeb, who took an overdose of sleeping pills in a hotel room. Loeb was a friend of Mostel's, according to Bernstein's memoirs.

Awards and honors

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. Andrea Marcovicci was nominated for the 1977 "Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress".

See also

Walter was not nominated for an academy award at the 47th Academy Awards. I have attached the Wikipedia entry for the Best Original Screenplay nominations for that year. The Front was not nominated in this category.

Best Original Screenplay

Chinatown - Robert Towne

   * Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Robert Getchell
   * The Conversation - Francis Ford Coppola
   * Day for Night - François Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman and Jean-Louis Richard
   * Harry and Tonto - Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld

References

External links

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