The Front

Synopsis: America’s Most Unlikely Hero

This acclaimed comedy with its serious, compelling theme vividly brings to life one of America’s most disturbing memories: the Communist “witch hunts” of the ’50s. Woody Allen stars as Howard Prince, a small-time restaurant cashier, part-time bookie and full-time loser who is induced by a writer-friend to “front” for the submission of his TV scripts when he is blacklisted as an alleged subversive. Howard is soon “fronting” for other writers. He becomes a celebrity and is lionized as television’s most brilliant and prolific young author. But when popular TV comic Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel) is blacklisted and his career is threatened, he agrees to keep Howard under surveillance. Howard is then summoned to appear before an investigative committee and his stand before them brings about an unexpected dramatic conclusion.
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The Front 7.5

When I first saw this movie, years ago, I felt that it was a bit drab. Not only is the humour sparse at best, but it’s buried under a very serious, if somewhat heavy, subject: the red scare of the post-WWII era and the subsequent ‘witch hunts’.

Many years later, and after watching it numerous times in bits here and there (mostly while going to sleep!) I think that’s a vastly under-seen and under-rated film in Woody Allen’s career. The fact that he neither wrote or directed it, might have something to do with it (it was actually put together and performed by many black-listed artists from the era), but it’s a shame because the movie remains as topical as ever – maybe even more so after 9/11.

‘The Front’ discusses the pressure that political powers put on people to get their way and how people buckle easily in the name of convenience, to avoid any personal hassles, and how these minor lapses have major consequences. It’s a serious matter but, thankfully, it’s done in a non-preachy fashion and a certain amount of class.

Its main problem is the fact that the humour has a difficult time rising to the top, so the seriousness is all pervasive. It’s not to say that it’s an overly heavy film but, considering that it deals with the impact of these political forces on the entertainment industry, one might expect the movie to be entertaining in a more pleasant way.

Still, it’s thought-provoking and I think that most people should see this movie – to understand, absorb the meaning and true power of the word “no”. It would do all of us, collectively, a great favour.

I give it a 7.5, overall, as a movie but, subjectively, I’d want to give it an 8.0 – if only because of how important its message is.

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