In the 1950's the Senator Joseph McCarthy started a witch hunt for communists
in the government and other areas of American life to advance his political
career. Soon the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was
looking into the possibility that communists in the film and television
industry were using the media as a propaganda tool for their Russian masters.
People who were suspected of having ties with communist groups or having
communists sympathies were black listed and could no longer find work.
The Front is a fictionalized account of life in the television industry
in during that time.
Howard Prince (Woody Allen) is a small time bookie and a cashier at
a small diner. He's always in debt and can never seem to get a break.
One day an old friend, Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy,) comes by to see
him. Alfred is a writer for network TV, but he can't get a job because
of his communist sympathies. He asks Howard to front for him.
Howard will sell the scripts as his own, and give the money to Alfred,
minus a 10% fee for his trouble. This arrangement works out well.
Alfred is able to make a living, and Howard is getting a little extra money.
Soon Howard wants a little more though. He has Alfred contact some
of his blacklisted friend and soon he is fronting for three writers.
People are dropping like flies at the network, and the government starts
looking into Prince. But they can't seem to find anything on him,
so they send a spy.
The people who created this film know what they speak of. The
director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein; and actors Zero Mostel,
Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and Joshua Shelley were all blacklisted
in the early 1950's. They were able to put a human face on the damage
that McCarthy and his followers did to innocent people. The movie
shows the pain and despair that being thrown out of your profession can
do, but also the hysteria that filled the movie and TV world at the time.
Yes, the movie does get a little heavy handed at times, but since the writer
lived through it, that can be forgiven.
The only real problem I have with the movie is that it is a drama, except
Woody Allen's character is playing in a comedy. Don't get me wrong,
Allen does a great job, but his usual neurotic, awkward persona, which
is what he plays in this film, doesn't fit in well with the serious tone
of the movie. I can only assume that his character was written that
way to lighten the mood a little, and he does, I just feel that it would
have been a stronger movie with fewer silly jokes. The last line
in the movie was priceless, and one of the best in movie history.
The acting was very good across the board, but Zero Mostel stole the
show. His portrayal of a comedian who has climbed to the top only
to be pulled down due to one youthful indiscretion was masterful.
The two channel mono sound track sounded pretty good. It suited
the film. The incidental music was clear as was the dialog, and there
was no evidence of hiss. There are a surprising number of subtitles
available. You have your choice between English, French, Japanese,
This DVD gives you the option of viewing the movie in a full frame,
pan and scan version, or anamorphic widescreen. For this review I
viewed the movie in widescreen, but spot checked the P&S version, and
the image quality seemed similar. There was a slight red push on
the film, ironically enough. It wasn't very large, just everyone
looking slightly more pink than they should. The film was shot with
a narrow field of focus, so even things slightly off from the plane of
focus were a little blurry, but that is a personal dislike, and not the
fault of the disc. The things that were in focus were clean
and tight. There did not seem to be any dirt or scratches on the
print they used. A nice looking film.
The only extras on this disc are trailers for Lost in Younkers
and Manhattan Murder Mystery. It is unfortunate that a trailer
for The Front wasn't included. There have been many documentaries
made about the blacklisting that was done in the 50's, and it would have
been a welcome treat to have included one on this disc. It's a shame
This is not what one usually expects from a Woody Allen movie, even
his later films. If you go into this expecting a lot of laughs, you'll
be disappointed. There are some very funny lines, but this movie
is a drama with comic elements rather than the other way around.
The film does get a tad too preachy at times, but only a tad. Zero
Mostel's performance is excellent, and the story is moving. A very
good movie that is well worth watching. Recommended.