Sherlock’s Classics: Film Review – The Front (1976)
With the Oscar nominated ‘Trumbo’ starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren and John Goodman in release I couldn’t think of a more appropriate time to turn the clock back to the similarly themed classic ‘The Front.’
Set in the early 1950s, the McCarthy hearings of the Communist Witch Hunt were at their peak and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was targeting the entertainment industry with a vengeance, with devastating results for many of the industry’s top writers, producers, directors, actors and many deeper with-in the industry, forcing them to ‘Name Names,’ face jail or be blacklisted by the industry and all those around them.
As a result, thousands of lives and careers were destroyed, families torn apart, even suicides.
In his only big screen dramatic starring role not written or directed by him, the legendary Woody Allen portrays a nebbish cashier who becomes a ‘Front’ for a friend, a blacklisted writer, by representing the scribe’s work as his own to producers and executives.
But before long cracks of credibility begin to appear and suspicion arises, and he too is soon called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify.
Beginning with a superbly intelligent screenplay by blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, Fail Safe) and directed with moving and haunting intensity by blacklisted filmmaking veteran Martin Ritt (Hud, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), star Woody Allen shines with gripping conviction.
However, the real stand-out is the scene-stealing and heartbreaking performance by the great Zero Mostel (The Producers), also blacklisted in reality, as the confused sympathetically tragic blacklisted comic targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee with a brutal force.
The supporting cast includes Andrea Marcovicci, Michael Murphy, Danny Aiello, along with blacklisted actors Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and Joshua Shelley, who all excel with great honesty and unflinching realism.
This is an important film, a dark, rich, intense, boldly humorous, sensitive, savage and compelling indictment during a time in the entertainment industry’s blackest and most shameful period, a moment when the people we should above all have been able to trust, became those who were to be feared the most.