“A Gut Punch”: The Front – The Woody Allen Pages Review


Directed by Martin Ritt, and released between Love And Death and Annie Hall, The Front is a wonderful drama with comedic elements. As Allen was ending his run of slapstick films before embarking on something more thoughtful, he starred in this film that explored the Hollywood Blacklist. It’s an all round great film, and one that is vastly underrated in the careers of all involved.

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Woody Allen in the Front

Woody Allen stars as Howard Prince, a waiter who is asked by a blacklisted writer to be his ‘front’ – pretend to be a writer and sell scripts. Prince thinks this will be a good meal ticket, but he gets involved in the hateful world of the blacklist, he has to decide between money or the right thing.

Michael Murphy and Woody Allen in the Front
Michael Murphy and Woody Allen in the Front

Allen is great. It is by far his most serious role to date. His Prince has some good lines and is charming, but he’s not wacky or hilarious. He’s our entry into this world, and our hearts break along with his as we learn more about the suffering. Zero Mostel is the one who steals the show. As a blacklisted, cornered and desperate entertainer, he brings all his nervous mania to the screen. Michael Murphy is pretty great too, for once being a good guy, and the voice of decency and conscience during the film.

Zero Mostel
Zero Mostel

The story still rings true today. In an era of Wikileaks, government phone taps and Edward Snowden, the general patriotic paranoia and creating an enemy is all too now. The film makes a great point that this all could have been stopped, if only a few men had been braver. Many of the stories here were based on true events. It’s a credit to the film that the bad guys don’t come across as cackling villains – there’s a controlled honesty here that is refreshing.

The film apparently received mixed reviews because it dealt with the subject lightheartedly. We now see this trick used all the time, and the mix of drama and comedy feels very modern. If anything, the fact that Allen’s character could not laugh this one off, and pays the ultimate price, makes it even more sad. It certainly doesn’t feel lighthearted, watching it now. Perhaps the blacklist was still too recent in 1976, and people wanted blood.

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Ritt (who was blacklisted) does a great job on a script by Walter Bernstein (who was also blacklisted), although some of Allen’s one liners are so Allen, we assume he wrote those. (It’s worth noting that Mostel, as well as many others who worked on the film, were also Blacklisted).

This feels like a film Allen could have made. That mix of drama and comedy can be seen in something like Manhattan (which also starred Murphy) or so many of Allen’s films to come. And his performance is spot on. The final moments of the film features some of Allen’s best acting.

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This lovely film is still a gut punch. Overshadowed in Allen’s career by Annie Hall, the Front doesn’t get its dues. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, and by far the best film in which Allen is only an actor. A must see for Allen fans, and tells an important story in the history of American film.

Full cast: Woody Allen, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Michael Murphy, Andrea Marcovicci, Marvin Lichterman, Lloyd Gough, David Margulies, Joshua Shelley, Norman Rose, Charles Kimbrough, Josek Sommer, Danny Aiello, Georgann Johnson

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  1. This film is one of the most remarkable, telling accounts of the mindset of the ’50s, and of the absolute horrors that the mentally deranged McCarthy unleashed not only on the entertainment industry but on the entire country, and the countless lives and careers that were ruined due his narcissistic insanity. But, to quote Gore Vidal, one of the most brilliant, insightful humans in history, – the “United States of Amnesia” is one that will NEVER learn from its mistakes and is tragically doomed to repeat them, the majority of its population largely twisted by ignorance, lack of education and the inability to resist being duped and manipulated by the moneyed elite that control this plutonomy masquerading as a democracy. Witness the 30-odd wars that the U.S. has either been provocateurs of or insinuated itself into since WWII – ALL lies, hoaxes designed to create wealth and ego validation for the power-hungry, under the guise of “protecting democracy” – at untold expense and tragedy for those gullible enough to fall for the game – from the obvious unfunny joke of the invasion of Iraq to search for “WMDs”, – to the most immoral scam in human history – U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The inevitable result of our world bullying? – 9/11. And now the masses propagandized to believe the lies through government designed lack of education and media control are continuing the repetition by keeping the present presidential lunatic in office. This film, centering on the “red scare” of the 50’s, illustrates perfectly the effects that allowing the government to manipulate citizenry motivation through deception, intimidation and fear to fuel its own greed and lust for control has on those unable to recognize the facts. The performances are all outstanding, but in particular take note of the unbelievable portrayal given by Zero Mostel. He delivers a performance that is indescribably brilliant – this man’s talents knew no bounds. He transitions seamlessly from the classic “always on” comedian, a joke or quip ready for any occasion, – to his inevitable devolvement into a tortured, desperate soul unable to reconcile his ethics and upbringing with what he is forced to do in order to survive, maintain his long, hard-won identity and take care of his family. His performance of “Hecky” is one of the most heart-wrenching in film history, and his last scene in the movie will leave you forever changed – and without any lingering doubts of the insidious effects that the ignorance of others can have on a decent human being. This movie is not only a gem of entertainment but, PLEASE, watch it with equal attention for the lesson it is trying to convey – one which never seems to be learned.

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