Long before last year’s Good Night, and Good Luck, Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976) tackled the subject of the McCarthy era, the activities of HUAC and the blacklisting of people in the entertainment business. True, Charles Chaplin had a say on the topic as early as 1957 with A King in New York — a film that not surprisingly only saw light of day in this country in 1972. In 1974, McCarthyism formed part of the plot for Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were, but Ritt’s film was the first American film to tackle the subject head-on — albeit in fictionalized terms.
Though starring Woody Allen in a not wholly atypical role and being executive produced by his normal production team, Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe, Allen is merely a player here. Ritt, behind the camera, and writer Walter Bernstein were in the best position to tell the tale. Both had been victims of the blacklist, as had actors Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Joshua Shelly and Lloyd Gough (watch the film’s closing credits), a factor that gives the film extra resonance.
The story — Allen as talentless cashier Howard Prince acting as a front for blacklisted writers — is invented and given a comedic slant, but the essentials are all too true. By turns funny and tragic, The Front lacks the style and precision of Good Night, and Good Luck, but offers the bonus of the reality of its makers’ involvement, and one of the greatest closing lines in the history of film.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke