8 Nov 2012

THE FRONT

By David Lee Andrews   Posted at  07:30   ZERO MOSTEL

The Front Cover Life can be very-very unfair at times. One minute you could be as free as a bird fluttering up into the sky. And the next minute you could be a splat down on the pavement far-far below. Just ask these guys and girls what I'm talking about.  Director: Martin Ritt; or Actors: Woody Allen, Michael Murphy, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Andrea Marcovicci. But only ask them in 1976, and for about 95-minutes. Mazel tov.


The Front


THE STORY:

I'm sure that you'll agree with me when I say that being on the Hollywood blacklist is a very bad thing indeed. You can't work. You can't provide for your family. And all in all you're somewhat constrained in earning a living.

So tell me something: if you were a scriptwriter on the Hollywood blacklist, who would you turn to for help? Practically illiterate bookmaker, Howard Prince (Woody Allen), perhaps? Because he does have some free time around his cashiers job, to 'front' your work for you! Yeah. Well, that's what Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) does. And in no time at all this very cunning ruse works like a treat.

Yes sir-re-Bob! You name it. Howard does it. 'His scripts' get turned into television shows. 'His talent' wins the affections of script editor, Florence Barrett (Andrea Marcovicci). His new found fame allows him to pay off all of his debts. Plus top it all off, Howard does so well with this ploy, that two other blacklist writers have need of his services also!

Though, isn't it a shame that one of the actors who performs one of 'Howard' scripts', Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel), can't do likewise? He's been earmarked for the Hollywood blacklist as well you see. And the only way out of it for him, is if he spies on Howard, and get some 'dirt' for the head communist man-hunter himself, Phil Sussman (Herschel Bernardi).

Ouch! Still, that's most probably why what next transpires all rolls around when Hecky and Howard go to a gig together in the Catskills. As relationships come apart - television stations have a waning heart - actors reluctantly take a fall - and at the end of the day a practically illiterate bookmaker really does surprise us all.

'F*CK OFF' -- See?


[Sorry -- No Trailer for this one]


THE REVIEW:
Now before I tell you what I think about 'The Front', please allow me give you some filmic-facts first. (1) This picture was released by 'Columbia' on the 17th September, 1976. (2) Quite a few of the people involved with this production were on the Hollywood blacklists. Such as director: Martin Ritt; writer: Walter Bernstein; and actors Zero Mostel, Joshua Shelley, Lloyd Gough and Herschel Bernardi. (3) According to screenwriter, Walter Bernstein, the three 'deli writers' were a mixture of himself, Abraham Polonsky, and Arnold Manoff, as they were all blacklisted due to the actions of the HUAC, whilst they co-wrote the fifties television series 'You Are There'. (4) Some of the scenes in this film were drawn from real-life events. For example, the scene where Hecky is cheated out of some money after playing at a gig at the mountain resort; was based on Walter Bernstein's own experience playing in the Catskill's. Also, the suicide scene was based on the death of blacklist actor, Philip Loeb. (5) The cinematographer on this film, Michael Chapman, also shot such films as 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver' for Martin Scorsese, plus 'Jaws' for Steven Spielberg. (6) This was one of many productions that both Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins produced for Woody Allen -- such as 'Manhattan' for instance [click on link for the review]. (7) Dave Grusin composed the film score for this movie as well as for others like 'On Golden Pond', 'Tootsie', 'The Graduate' and 'The Goonies'. (8) Although this film wasn't highly praised upon its release, it did receive some notable mentions from the industry. Walter Bernstein was nominated for an Academy Award for 'Writing Original Screenplay'. Andrea Marcovicci was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for 'New Star of the Year -- Actress Category'. And Zero Mostel was nominated for a BAFTA Award for 'Best Supporting Actor'. (9) This was the last full-feature for comedic actor, Zero Mostel.


Woody Allen in The Front


OK, so now that's all out of my head, how good is 'The Front', huh? Is it a 'Bwa-ha-ha'? Or is it a 'Oh-no-no'?

Well, if truth be told, this movie is what I would call a good piece of work with a wavering center to it. You see, it tries its best to illustrate a very turbulent part of American history that always deserves some exploring. Yet, in the same breath, it cannot help but 'bust a funny' or segway into 'other issues' just for the sake of scope and narrative.


Zero Mostel in The Front


Here, let me tell you what I mean by this in bullet-point fashion: (1) All the actors in this film are a blast to watch -- especially Zero Mostel -- who I would have liked to have seen more of, if truth be told. (2) One of my only slight gripes with this movie -- for a change -- is Woody Allen. Please note; if you have been following this site you must know that I really do respect him as an artist. In fact, he's one of my comedy idols. But I have to say that Woody's character does come across as slightly un-likeable at times; and he does not really redeem himself until the last thirty minutes or so. (3) For a story about the Hollywood blacklist, I'm sorry to say that it does touch upon this subject matter in a very conceptual way. Granted, it's not too conceptual -- because there's enough on show for a 'beginners guide' -- so to speak. However, whilst saying that, there wasn't enough to really add that much meat to it's collective bones -- appearing too thin on the surface. (4) The last thirty minutes of this film was just class through and through. Honest to God, I found that it redeemed the whole feature where it lagged in places -- and for that alone it's well worth the watch. (5) Whenever both Woody and Zero were on screen together, it really did light up. Well, from my own personal perspective, their combined magic was so apparent, that -- again -- I would have like to have seen a lot more of it. (6) Do you know Melina Kanakaredes from the cop-show 'CSI: NY'? If you do, then that's how Andrea Marcovicci comes across in this film. Sassy. Mannered. And in many ways a lovely touch to the overall production. (7) Now bookending this picture was a song sung by Frank Sinatra called 'Young at Heart'. OK, I could be completely off the mark here, but to me, this musical melody illustrated the naive aspects of both American politics and Woody's character in this comedy drama. But I could be wrong though. 


Zero and Woody in The Front


Overall 'The Front' is a fairly good film. No. Better than 'good'. It's a 'gooood' film. Because the pretext was fairly solid, the actors were great, plus it has a philandering through-line that is one-half funny and one-half political. Agreed, Zero?




Ahh. Bless him.  

THE RATING: A-

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