Review: The Front
Blu-ray & DVD: The Front (1976)
Howard Prince (Woody Allen) works as a cash register, running bets, losing money and in the words of his own brother, is a bum. His friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) is a television writer who has recently been blacklisted as being a communist sympathiser. Alfred approaches Howard and offers him the opportunity to act as a front, which means that Alfred will write scripts and Howard will present them to the television network pretending to be the writer.
At first things work well for Howard and he gains prominence and fame as the television shows become more and more popular. Seduced by the promise of more fortune and glory he suggests that they get more blacklisted writers on board to write more scripts. As you can imagine, it’s not long before Howard receives unwarranted attention from the authorities and the net begins to tighten around him and his collaborators.
Set in 1953, during the hysteria of the communist witch hunts, The Front tells the story of just how far people had to go to earn a living in America and particularly, how it affected Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
It just so happens that prior to watching The Front, I listened to the wonderful podcast, The Secret History of Hollywood: Hunting Witches with Walt Disney. At nearly 3 hours long, it gave me a fascinating insight into the shocking events that took place, and how peoples lives were literally ruined (sometimes tragically) for being connected to communism.
There are many great things about The Front but, one of the best has to be the general air of authenticity as it features people who lived through that horrible time. Director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein, actors Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and Joshua Shelley were all blacklisted in the 1950’s.
Zero Mostel plays a particularly tragic character who was a very successful actor finding himself blacklisted and struggling to get work. His performance is brilliant displaying real pathos, which is even more poignant knowing that this was his last feature film performance before his death.
The acting in general is excellent and Allen is fantastic playing his character with a sense of naivety who doesn’t realise the situation he’s getting himself into. He’s quite happy with the fame and fortune but, when he starts to realise how being blacklisted is affecting people you see how it changes him. It’s also worth noting that his final line the film is wonderfully delivered and made me want to punch the air.
I’m not the worlds biggest Woody Allen fan but I do appreciate his work, especially Sleeper which I think is a fantastic movie. If you want a more in depth piece on Woody Allen films then I would suggest you check out the excellent review Tina wrote of the Arrow Films release of Woody Allen: Seven Films – 1986-1991.
The Front was a joy to watch featuring superb performances, a razor sharp script and a gripping compelling story. If you have any interest in one of Americas darkest times in history then I would highly recommend you check it out. In fact, whilst you’re at it why not have a double bill and watch the excellent Quiz Show and then go and listen to The Secret History of Hollywood: Hunting Witches with Walt Disney.
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original negative
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman and actress Andrea Marcovicci
• Behind The Front (2004, 6 mins): an interview with the acclaimed director of photography Michael Chapman
• Isolated score: experience Dave Grusin’s original soundtrack music
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 36-pqge booklet with a new essay by professor Gabriel Miller, author of The Films of Martin Ritt: Fanfare for the Common Man and archival interviews with Woody Allen, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and director Martin Ritt
• Limited Dual Format Edition of 3,000 copies
• UK Blu-ray premiere