The Front

A classic more appreciated decades after its release, The Front offers a remarkable, also curious defense of the Blacklist victims. Its plot features television and New York rather than film and Hollywood, and it is a comedy, one of actor Woody Allen’s best, treating a deadly serious subject. Walter Bernstein,* in the film’s backstory, had wanted for years to make such a film, and so had director-producer Martin Ritt,* himself earlier blacklisted as an actor and only rehabilitated as a director. Lacking a star, the project was deemed hopeless. But Woody Allen, less famous than he would shortly become, happened to be a personal friend of Bernstein’s, and sympathetic to the blacklistees. The film, as it opens, offers an almost literal re-enactment of a conversation by the three principal writers of television’s first "quality" show, You Are There—all of them blacklistees, writing behind pseudonyms. In the film as in real life, they are looking for a front, although Woody Allen’s protagonist is rather more naïve than the courageous stand-ins of the time. Zero Mostel* plays a Blacklist victim who cannot, no matter how much he wants success, betray his Jewishness, and who under duress chooses suicide. It was partly Mostel’s own story, and partly that of Molly Goldberg’s co-star Philip Loeb, who, faced with ruin, ended his own life. Bernstein got a much-deserved Oscar® nomination for Best Screenplay. -Paul Buhle *Blacklist victim
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