One hates to put it this simply, but here goes: "The Front" is a brilliant film, an effortlessly entertaining and endlessly fascinating 'fictionalization' of what happened to a great many filmmakers during the infamous McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s. Rare is the comedy this personal, this engaging and this infuriating...plus it's punctuated by one of the finest "last lines" in modern movie history.Woody Allen stars (in a movie he neither wrote nor directed, a rather rare occurence) as Howard Prince, a likable shnook who works as a deli cashier while running a low-rent bookie operation on the side. When Howard is approached by old pal Alfred Miller, the pair strike a dangerous deal: Miller, a successful TV writer, has recently been 'blacklisted' by the House of Un-American Activities. Suspected by Senator McCarthy of being a communist sympathizer, Miller finds himself an outcast in his field. Fearing pressure from a rabid and clueless politico, the entertainment industry frequently yielded to McCarthy's tactics; many decent people had thier careers irrevocably ruined by these events.
Prince enthusiastically agrees to put his name onto Miller's scripts, thereby giving the writer an opportunity to make a living while Prince (as the "front") becomes an unexpected sensation as a wordsmith. It's not long before the well-meaning Prince is representing three more writers; Prince's popularity soars as he begins to see the horrific damage caused by the blacklist.
The Front, produced in 1975, was written, produced and directed by filmmakers who were victims of the McCarthy hearings. The Red Scare cost these filmmakers a huge chunk of their careers, and it's a testament to their talent and craftsmanship that The Front is more enlightening and entertaining than it is opportunistic or laden with sour grapes. One need only refer to a heartbreaking subplot involving Zero Mostel (as the undeservedly disgraced comedian Hecky Brown) to see that director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein suffered mightily at the hands of McCarthy's ill-conceived witch hunt.
The cast is excellent across the board, with Woody's neurotic nebbishism a perfect complement to the tale at hand. Michael Murphy and Herschel Bernardi (as the blacklisted Miller and a beleaguered TV producer, respectively) offer fantastic support and the immortal Zero Mostel delivers a performance that's equal parts sweet, funny and helplessly tragic.
The Front may not be all you need to know about the 1950's blacklist (it is, of course, a film made by people who were victims of the list), but it's certainly one of the finest films ever made on the subject.Not only is "The Front" a brilliantly crafted and entirely captivating film, but it will inspire you to learn more about what really went down during the McCarthy era. And obviously that's a really good thing.