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The Front
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  • omerta -- moda communista
    the Woodman speaks up for those of his buddies in his early show biz days who were caught 'red-handed' betraying their friends, family, and community to Joseph Stalin, a psychopathic mass murderer who killed tens of millions of his own countrymen.

    having successfully turned eastern europe into a Stalinist hell in the post WWII years, the 'usual suspects' {chuckling}, through the CPUSA (Communist Party USA) and various other front groups, attempted to turn western europe and the u.s. into similar Stalinist hells.

    post-glasnot, even the successor to the KGB admits that the CPUSA was owned lock, stock, and barrel by soviet intelligence, from the day of its founding in 1917.

    the fallback defense -- now that even the venerable NY Times (at long last) concedes all of this, is along the lines of, "hey, dude, don't have a cow -- it's *not* as if they *succeeded* in turning the u.s. into a Stalinist hell!"

    well, no, they didn't -- because they were stopped from doing so. needless to say, they have never forgiven us for exposing their perfidy to public scrutiny.

    "name, names of my friends? -- no way!" says Woody's otherwise completely innocent character. he chooses jail instead (a scenario that *never once* happened in real life).

    oh, btw, everyone knows show business people would sell their grandmother's eyeballs to the blind mullah just to get a speaking part in a movie. but, betray Stalin? no way!!!

    of course, if they had been working-class, high-school dropouts with names that ended in vowels, no one would have been the least bit fooled that there was something noble about 'omerta'. (or would they? {sigh.})

    anyway, the best thing about The Front is, of course, Andrea Marcovicci, who is, imo, the most underrated love goddess of her generation. so she plays a communist fellow traveler -- with lips like hers, who cares? hey, like the Joe E. Brown character said with a big grin at the end of Some Like It Hot, "nobody's perfect!"...more info
    Soon after the release of his hilarious 1975 film, "Love and Death," Woody Allen did something he rarely does...

    ...he starred in a movie -- that he didn't write or direct.

    Back in the mid-1970s, the idea of slapstick actor Woody Allen -- crossing into "serious" territory and coming out heroic -- was unfathomable.

    Yet when "The Front" came out in 1976, its ad campaign blared, "America's Most Unlikely Hero." I couldn't shake off Allen's image as a prankster, the same foolish nerd who's vividly on display in his early, fall-down-funny films.

    But when I saw Allen in "The Front," directed by the late Martin Ritt, it marked the beginning of my "conversion" -- from an on-the-fence "observer" -- into a full-fledged, Woody Allen fan.

    "The Front" feels like it's all Woody Allen -- because it has a comedic flair with which we're familiar in all of his films. But former blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein -- not Woody Allen -- wrote the script for "The Front."

    The film is about a serious part of American history. Allen is a cashier and a part-time bookie -- who shoots to super stardom as a "front" for blacklisted television writers who are Communist sympathizers. His built-in persona as a clumsy and intellectual nerd -- vested into a heartfelt character who feels tremendous loyalty and affection for his friends -- is a wonderment. And in 1976, for the first time -- we got to see humanity and horror reflected in a starkly emotional face -- that Allen himself rarely reveals -- when he's an actor in his own films.

    When this "PG-rated" picture came out more than 30 years ago, I was shocked by its ending. In 1976, you couldn't end a film like "The Front" without getting slapped with an "R" rating. During the 1970s, only one other American film containing a specific profane expression -- "All the President's Men" -- also released in 1976 -- escaped with a "PG" rating, with the Motion Picture Association of America citing "historical" considerations. That same reasoning must have also applied to "The Front."

    Today, the ending of "The Front" seems tame, but it was a revelation during the 1970s. Years later, I look back at "The Front," a film missed by many, as a "turning point" for Woody's career -- a launching pad for the sparkling and serious work Allen himself churned out as a writer and director from 1977 to 1989 -- a stellar period, creatively speaking, that in my view, he's unlikely to top again. And I can't help but think that "The Front," which was released before "Annie Hall" in 1977, played some role in Allen's decision to shift gears forever, writing more films with important themes, yet still stamped with his special brand of humor.

    The late Zero Mostel and the luminous Andrea Marcovicci are also fabulous. Mostel was a well-known performer in 1976, hence his polish as an actor shines through. The bigger surprise is Marcovicci. One wonders what kind of film career she could've had -- had she been offered better parts. She's camera-ready radiant and her acting is note perfect in "The Front." (Fortunately, in real life, she got the last laugh, going on to a spectacular career as a cabaret singer in New York.)

    I just watched "The Front" again and it still holds up well. Superficially it feels comic, but the undercurrent of tragedy is present. After a horrific plot twist takes center stage, Woody's transformation is complete. His status as a "front" for blacklisted writers becomes more than just about having money and friends. Just before his character has to testify in front of a Congressional committee about Communists in the entertainment industry, he vows to Andrea Marcovicci that he'll NEVER go back to his old life as a cashier. But he doesn't tell her how. In fact, we as an audience -- don't know how Allen's character will achieve this goal -- until he utters the last line in the picture.

    Untypically (for Woody Allen) -- that line -- is a crowd pleaser. But everything feels earned. (Frank Sinatra sings "Young at Heart" under the opening AND closing credits.) In sum, "The Front" is a hidden gem more people should see....more info
  • excellent movie--funny but with substance
    this is one of the best movies i've ever seen--it is funny, touching, and just long enough....more info
  • Fantastic film
    Having seen this film just once on TV I had to wait over a decade for the internet to enable me to buy it from the US (I live in the UK). It was worth the wait. The film is just so great and the ending is fantastic....more info
  • The Front
    Martin Ritt's restrained but powerful film is a searing indictiment of the corrosive, cowardly effects of McCarthysim, a time the director lived through. It's a sort of bitter victory (or sweet revenge) that Mostel was cast, as he was an early victim of the same blacklist. The inimitable Zero steals the show as the tragic Hecky, but Woody is also fine in a fairly straight role. A vivid recreation of a dark moment in our history....more info
  • One of Woody's best
    Woody Allen is a nobody whose friend is a blacklisted TV writer; Allen agrees to "front" for him (submit scripts written by his friend with his [Allen's] name on them). This is a very compelling look at what HUAC was up to during the early 1950's witch hunts in the entertainment field, and Allen gets laughs too as the schlemiel parading as a writer who enjoys the money and accolades he's getting from his role, but also suffers pangs of conscience at the end and tells the committee that's investigating him off. Zero Mostel is excellent as a blacklisted comic who befriends Allen. The principal actors, as well as the writer and director, were all blacklisted in real life, and they all bring to the movie a feeling of love and commitment. It's among my favorite Woody Allen movies. Definitely worth a watch....more info
  • One of the best films ever made about the showbiz blacklist
    Woody Allen stars in this sharp political satire, in which a schleppy, low-life bookie is enlisted by an old friend to act as his "front," so that the friend -- a socially progressive Hollywood screenwriter -- can circumvent the Korean War-era anti-Communist blacklist. Allen is great in his role, projecting his nebbish image onto the Howard Prince character, in a fine turn that makes you wish he'd taken on more acting roles outside of his own films. Zero Mostel also stars, poignantly, as Hecky Brown, a TV comedian who also runs afoul of the censors -- Mostel's tragic role is made infinitely more moving by the fact that he himself actually was blacklisted in the 'Fifties, as were the film's director, Martin Ritt, the screenwriters and several of the other participants, many of whom star as characters in the film. Their firsthand experience with the cruelty and absurdity of this dark era in showbiz history comes through loud and clear, as they skewer the suits and sleazes who had ruined their careers decades earlier. The film's drama and comedy are not sacrificed to the political message, however, and this is a thoroughly entertaining, emotionally moving film. Highly recommended!...more info
    It is a joy to watch Woody free of directorial and writing tasks and just presenting a great part within an equally talented ensemble. Seeing him struggle to play second banana to the great Zero Mostel is to watch him take a back seat and get out of the way. Herschel Bernardi is also wonderful as a divided company man who wants to keep his job and his ideals under pressure.

    This story would be no more popular today than the Dixie Chix. It recounts the rather amateur effort of the right wing in the fifties to take over our culture and our entertainment industries by throwing out anyone who might have marched leading with the left foot. In our current paranoid Patriot ACT age in which media monoploy by far right wingers like Rupert Murdoch assures we hear and view only a tiny slover of their "approved" perspective and that any other concept never reaches braodcast or film, and in which other perspectives and points of view wouldbe incomprehensible to the viewing public, this right wing Freedom Information agency looks like fools. Tight butt fools, but incompetent fools.

    This movie is wonderful and poignant and telling from beginning to end. Supplement it with Good night and good luck as well as the Cradle will rock. Also see Chaplin's King in New York about the irony of a king being suspected a commie and brought under house investigation. Then read Cassell's take on AShcroft. And read Chomsky's Manufactured COnsent. Do your homework. Turn off that tv!

    And then go watch ANYTHING other than USA and British monopolistic media to see there are whole other worlds of worldviews to consider carefully.

    ...more info
  • Terrific comedy/drama about a dark time in US history
    A cashier and small-time bookie (Woody Allen) agrees to front for black-listed writers (Michael Murphy, Remak Ramsey, Marvin Lichterman) in 1950s network TV, passing off their work as his own and keeping 10% of the fee. He becomes comfortable and enjoys his new fame, but his delight at living the good life and dating a beautiful script editor (Andrea Marcovicci) gradually wanes in the face of the seriousness of the McCarthy era blacklist, the coercive tactics of the federal government, and its devastating effect on the lives of people in show business.

    This is one of Allen's rare appearances in a film that he did not write and direct. He has chosen his material well. Director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein, both blacklisted themselves, have crafted a marvelously entertaining and funny film that also dramatizes the tragedy of the blacklist. Allen makes the material his own so that it often seems as if he has written his own dialogue. Zero Mostel delivers a great performance as the blacklisted comedian Hecky Brown.
    ...more info
  • See it now, before this exciting moment passes
    I had to see this movie because my real life was based on the idea that this kind of excitement is usually reserved for the experiences that money can't buy. I was surprised when the Secret Service was interested in having me sign a release to allow appropriate authorities to examine a photocopy of my 1989-1999 psychiatric files to determine if I needed to be on a list of dangerous persons that the government would be trying to prevent from flying or entering special safe zones for politicians who would like to stay far away from crazy people who could totally blow their cool. Since politics lately is like the idea that a Vietnam war hero is most likely to be treated like the oxymoron it always had the potential to become, I could even complain that this movie did not come close to the issues which make the current situation more like the movie `Fahrenheit 9/11.' But the people who made this movie knew what they were doing to protect their right to say whatever they wanted to say.

    That Woody Allen and Zero Mostel managed to make a serious movie, `The Front,' which is based on the experiences of the blacklisted writers, actors, and the director that could give meaning to ideas like taking the fifth and naming names, still seems important, even though official investigation of subversive activities in the entertainment industry is hardly what it used to be. In the field of philosophy, Martin Heidegger retains a bad reputation among some people for terminating certain academic careers by calling certain people un-German or Jewish when that was his job and what his Fuhrer wanted, so some highly educated people are more sensitive to this kind of issue than others. Woody Allen has the ideal character from a modern American standpoint, able to play complete apathy, concerned that anyone should be in trouble, but hardly prone to accept the network's advice, `Name Hecky Brown. He's dead.' Sometimes death is more than just nature's way of telling certain people to slow down, and being an expert in this kind of death is not as comic as we keep pretending. In another context, Woody Allen said, `Intellectuals are like the mafia; they only kill their own.' This is one of the truer things he ever said, possibly the truest in my case. This film is like a layer of history in the crusade against godless Communism that the United States of America went through in the 1950's to get to the position it is in today, which is a different crusade in which comedy can hardly be faulted for failing to keep up with what is going on in reality.

    Zero Mostel pretending to be a spy, knocking on a door saying, `Open up, this is the police!' is also the kind of behavior I observe in neighbors who are trying to participate in my form of paranoia. Anyone who has ever been to Harvard Law School should have some way to keep from sympathizing too much with the character that Zero Mostel plays in this movie, but I should save my sympathy for other people who already spent all the money they ever had. If comedy were an art form, I still wouldn't be funny, and that is what really hurts me, but this DVD is great either way....more info
  • a chilling black comedy......
    THE FRONT, starring Woody Allen, Michael Murphy and Zero Mostel, is an engaging, brilliant, well-written piece that examines the plight of Blacklisted writers and other creative artists who were stifled and forbidden during the age of McCarthyism and the Witch Hunt. Many in their industry were forced and strongarmed to "name names" of people with supposed Communism and anti-American behavior (those who might pose a threat to this supposedly democratic nation of ours). There were numerous eloquent, intelligent and insightful people who were made "invisible" under the clause of this regimented attempt to stamp out those who were politically subversive.

    Howard Prince (Allen) is a meak cashier who poses as a Blacklisted writer (Murphy) secretly passing on his work and acting as ghostwriter in a series of pieces that earn him critical acclaim. Though, this response proves quite seductive for Prince, who pockets the money to pay off gambling debts, he becomes aware of the great wrong and injustice being done to those targetted as subversives, and Howard feels he must take a stand. This film is seemingly humorous, at first, but then turns decidedly dark and unflinchingly brutal toward the end. You have to see this. It could quite possibly give you a very important perspective on the realities of censorship, political and creative suppression, as well as the underlying corruption that cost so many people their jobs during the 1940s and 1950s....more info
  • Mostel Showcase
    The screen time may belong to Woody Allen, but the movie belongs to Zero Mostel. Few actors are more improbable than the artfully bulky Mostel, whose round head, tiny snub nose and large expressive eyes resemble a cartoon more than an actual person. Yet his range is phenomenal. Watch the breadth as he slyly tries to work around head witch-hunter Francis Hennesee, or comically greets the diminutive Allen, or explodes in eye-popping rage at the Borscht-belt proprietor who cheats him. His metaphorical loss in the film mirrors the very real loss film-goers suffered during his years of blacklist. And it's to Allen's credit that he generously showcases this prodigious talent in what would be Mostel's last film.

    The movie itself handles the blacklist of the 1950's with a congenial light touch. Allen is perfect as the nebbish who fronts for his screenwriter pals, and it's fun to watch him puff up and fluff out as the spotlight shifts abruptly his way. As expected, there are many amusing Allen bits scattered throughout. Even the romantic angle with Marcovicci works nicely into Allen's character as he evolves through the story-line, ending in a perceptive example of the old "worm turns" plot twist. All in all, this 1976, Martin Ritt film amounts to an amusing look at a dark period in American civil liberties, made unusually memorable by the sublime presence of the unforgettable Zero Mostel....more info

  • Perfect presentation of the absurdity of the Blacklist.
    An exceptional expose on the absurdity of the Hollywood Blacklist. Allen is a restaurant cashier asked by a former high school chum to "front" as a writer so this gentleman can continue to write and get paid. It works so well, two more blacklist writers are added. It's funny to watch unassuming Allen develop an ego as he takes on the persona of an actual writer. In addition, there is a love interest which questions whether this love would grow if he were still a cashier.

    The second half of this movie really builds around the conflicts involved with whether to testify and "name names". The absurdity is so evident when Allen is forced to testify to escape punishment if he will "out" a purported communist who has just committed suicide. Zero Mostel also has a great role as an actor trying to get work.

    I strongly recommend this movie to challenge your beliefs about the blacklist. Also, make sure and stay for the credits to see the many involved who were blacklisted but were able to work on this movie. An exceptionally entertaining and educational movie....more info

  • Here we go again?
    I saw this film when it was released in 1976 and have not seen it since. It affected me profoundly as I remembered coming home from school for lunch as a teenager and hearing the HUAC hearings on the radio. At the time of the release of "The Front", it was my understanding that everyone associated with the film had been blacklisted except for Woody Allen. A few months ago while visiting friends and discussing the proposed renewal of the Patriot Act, I expressed my disdain at this situation. My friend replied, "If you don't have anything to hide, why do you care what someone asks or investigates about you?" I replied that I DID CARE very much and my reasons would take a lengthy explanation but would be best illustrated by a series of films and books starting with "The Front". I would recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in this subject to start with this film, then read "Naming Names", see "Guilty by Suspicion", "The Way We Were", and "Good Night and Good Luck". All of these works are powerful, important, informative, and are also entertaining. ...more info
  • Biased but important reminder of a dark time
    I suppose first up, given some of the comments here, that it's worthwhile acknowledging that communism was a threat to the United States and the West in the 1950s, and that the CPUSA played a subversive role in supporting the foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union. How culpable were the one-time communist sympathisers in Hollywood is another matter entirely, however, and the crudity and narrow-mindedness of McCarthy was unworthy of a democratic nation.
    That the real danger of Soviet-style communism (both to the Americanist flagwavers and the progressive liberals and workers who understandably despised both the right and the CPUSA left) doesn't come across in this film is perhaps understandable: the personal hurt felt by all those who made it may over-ride their own sense of complicity. Unfortunate, but there you are. And it is a comedy.
    As for the film itself, Allen is brilliant as Howard Prince, although once again, he seems to be playing Woody. The real star, however, is Mostel, whose bravura performance throughout puts you through the wringer with him.

    The ending is ambiguous - his testimony before HUAC is supposedly carefully planned by him (without his counsel's knowledge), but instead Woody playing Woody (ie. with all the nervous tics and unfinished, stuttering sentences) gives the perhaps misleading impression that he's floundering, and therefore can leave viewers wondering whether his rebuke to the system was a political statement or merely a desperate outburst from one who was outwitted by a group of professionals.
    Nevertheless, the film is v. enjoyable....more info

  • "Take care of yourself. The water is full of sharks."
    The McCarthy-inspired Blacklist in the late 40s and 50s is such a shameful incident in America's history that film and TV has largely steered clear of the subject altogether: you can count the films dealing with it directly on the fingers of one hand, so it sounds like damning with faint praise to say that the rarely revived The Front is the best of them all. That it's the `Woody Allen film' that time forgot hasn't helped it's reputation, but in truth, although many regular Allen collaborators from co-star Michael Murphy to producers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe are involved, this isn't an Allen film: some of the wisecracks may be tailor-made for him, but this is Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein's film and Allen's just playing a role, that of a cashier and small-time bookie who finds himself `fronting' for blacklisted writers for 10% of whatever they get for their scripts.

    Kicking off with a superb scene-setting montage of the 50s at its best and worst, from baseball and apple pie to the Korean War and the execution of the Rosenbergs while Frank Sinatra sings Young at Heart on the soundtrack, it's a film that certainly speaks from personal experience. Along with writer Walter Bernstein and director Martin Ritt (who had both touched upon the blacklist more obliquely in 1970's The Molly Maguires) many of the cast - Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough, Joshua Shelley - were blacklisted, while the daughter of one of the blacklist's most tragic victims, John Garfield, also appears. Yet surprisingly it's not a whitewash: the blacklisted writers make it clear that they weren't put on the list by mistake but because they are communists, while Allen's front may start out on his new career as a favor to a friend but quickly shows his true opportunistic colors. No sooner has he seen how much money he can make than he's taking on more writers at higher rates, seducing Andrea Marcovicci's production assistant who is really in love with the words that aren't even his own rather than the man himself and getting ideas above his station, refusing to hand in scripts he thinks aren't up to his standards because "It's my name that goes on the script." In that he's really no different from anyone else in a world where club owners take advantage of the blacklist to get performers like Mostel's increasingly suicidal Hecky Green at bargain rates and then still knock them down even further after a sell-out show. But it's not long before he becomes a political suspect himself...

    Set in the fledgling TV industry where gas company sponsors insisted on rewriting concentration camp dramas to avoid giving their product a bad image and where businessmen who only owned a couple of stores could demand - and get - the right of veto over any cast members they thought are `too red' for their customers' liking by threatening to withdraw a single commercial (both true incidents), it doesn't really need to resort to comic invention, but it's more of an absurd yet dry black comedy that's often too dark NOT to laugh at. The final scene where Allen comes up against the committee and tries to bluff his way out of a contempt charge is really just a piece of wish fulfilment, the kind of thing you wish you had said long after the moment has passed, but it's hard to begrudge Ritt and Bernstein their moment: they earned it. Running a tight hour-and-a-half and with great photography by Michael Chapman, it's well worth investigating.

    ...more info
  • Just Say No!
    The various blanket infringements on the rights of American citizens and others since the criminal events of 9/11 hardly represent the first time that the American government has seen fit to curtail those rights. The Palmer Raids roundup of reds, radicals and foreigners in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution at the tail end of World War I comes to mind. As done the subject of this film, the red scare against communist and other labor radicals after World War II with the onset of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, a former ally. The name of this period narrowly is given in the history books as the McCarthy witch-hunt era, although that hardly dose justice to the widespread political paranoia, high and low, in America at that time. The signature event was the execution of the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. As this film points out as it unfolds that political perfect storm dragged in and ruined many people from many fields, probably none more publicized than in the entertainment industry especially film and the emerging television medium.

    Woody Allen has performed many roles over the year from nerdy romantic lead to nerdy neurotic New York intellectual and social commentator but this is one of the few roles of his where the subject matter is more than just fodder for his sardonic writing or comedic talents. The story line here is rather simple, if the politics are rather more complex. Woody, a bright but underachieving New York bar cashier Howard Prince, as a favor (and to get some much needed cash as well) to his blacklisted lefty childhood television writer friend (played by Michael Murphy) agrees to "front" for him. This means that said friend does the writing and Woody gets the credit, the cash and off-handedly as is the case with many commercial productions the girl. In short order Woody gets to like the notoriety and the new lifestyle and agrees to front for other blacklisted writers. Then the real trouble starts.

    During the early 1950's it was not enough to write sanitary material for the mass media (approved by outsiders with their own agendas), it was not enough to apologize to various Congressional committees and their cohorts for youthful, innocent and, frankly, acceptable leftist political beliefs in order to survive in the entertainment industry (the subject here but it could have been in the trade unions, education, governmental service or almost any other facet of American life at the time). One had to grovel and name names. And the bulk of those who were called before the committees or faced other types of pressure did do, with regret, with relish or with indifference. But they did it.

    There is an incredibly poignant sub theme that runs throughout this film that details the pressures in the career-shattering of one of the "recanters", Hecky Brown (masterfully played by Zero Mostel, blacklisted in the 1950's himself as was the director Martin Ritt and some of the others involved in this production), who in the end gives up Woody to the committees- finks on him, in other words. However filled with remorse Hecky commits suicide. That was not common to be sure. Hell, those were desperate times and not everyone has the courage to say no. Woody's character, in the convoluted, Allen way does just that. Just says no. And pays the consequences. So in the end there were choices. For every Elia Kazan, Elizabeth Bentley and the like there was a Howard Fast, a Dashiell Hammett and the like who said no. As some recently released information has indicated the Rosenbergs paid the ultimate price for their refusal to name names. That, in the end, is what this film is all about and that is what should be honored.
    ...more info