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The Front (1976)

by on 2012/08/29


“I figure if you are going to write about human beings you might as well make them people.”

* * *

Way back in the sands of time, during the Cold War, I tried to buy my best friend in high school a subscription to Pravda. I had an Agitprop poster of a Russian soldier holding a flower on my bedroom wall.

I was being edgy. It all went over huge in rural Alberta. Huge.

I wouldn’t have fared nearly as well in the 1950s U.S.

The Front, not a Woody Allen joint, is a serious film about McCarthyism in America, a time where Hollywood was bent on filtering out ‘pinkos’ and ‘reds’ from the popular entertainment industry. This witch hunt saw writers, directors, actors blacklisted from the business, unable to work.

Written and directed by real victims of the McCarthy blacklist, Walter Bernstein and Martin Ritt respectively, the film stars Woody Allen as a Howard Prince, cashier and compulsive gambler. His only distinction, other than his epic debt to many shady loan sharks (including Danny Aiello), is that he has a talented friend in a Hollywood writer, Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy).

Miller is a communist sympathizer and as a result, has been frozen out of his chosen profession. He has no choice but to ask his schmucky friend to front his writing – for a percentage cut.

Delightful misunderstandings ensue.

Ok, not really.

Portrayals of this era make me crazy, in fact. The mass hysteria, the injustice of this time makes me incredibly angry. It was easy to get especially worked up particularly when you watch the officious, no-talent brown shirt Mr. Hennessey (Remak Ramsay) who personifies the hateful time. “Your sincerity is important,” Hennessey intones as he hands a pen over to sign another forced confession.

Prince attracts the eye of a series show producer, Florence, played by Andrea Marcovicci. And Prince becomes a friend to a Hollywood icon, Hecky Brown, a crying clown and eccentric. The colourful host of a popular show that Prince pretends to write for, Brown is a Gleason with a kosher half sour pickle in hand. Brown is played by the amazing, amazing, amazing Zero Mostel.

To put it mildly, Mostel is a growling, bellowing, manic force of nature in this film. He’s incredible.

I learned that Allen wrote Whatever Works with Mostel in mind. With all love and respect for Larry David, I would have loved to see Mostel take the lead in that movie.

Mostel is another victim of the witch hunt, both in this film and in real life. In the film, he dallied with communism simply to win the affection of a “girl with a big ass.”

Mostly, it was weird to see Allen surrounded and engulfed by a serious film. He’s charming, he’s funny. He’s like the hilarious guy at the funeral. You didn’t feel right laughing too, too much. It would be unseemly.

What I also took away from this experience is that I could watch Mr. Allen do just about anything. I am with him, and will follow him wherever he may go.

I also communed with the notion that in times of injustice, like it or not, you’ve got to pick a side.

As the selfish Mr. Prince was told, “You are always looking for a middle you can dance around in. Well. this time, there is no middle.”

* * *

95 minutes

Rated PG

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  1. A Goth’s Month in Review: August 2012 « Geek vs Goth

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