The Front

The Front (1976)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Woody Allen, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Michael Murphy, Andrea Marcovicci
Extras: Trailer

In the "The Font" Woody Allen, this time neither directing or writing – simply acting, plays Howard Prince, a smalltime New York restaurant cashier, part-time bookie, and as usual a nerdy loser. It is 1952 and the Un-American Committee is turning the movie and television industry inside out in their vicious crusade against communism. When one of his friends, a television writer, is blacklisted, the two decide to make Howie the front. Alfred would write the scripts and Howie would sell them to the network under his name, posing as the writer. The scheme works like a charm and quickly, Howie becomes one of the most celebrated successes of the network. He adds additional blacklisted writers to his "portfolio" and soon becomes a celebrity as one of television’s most brilliant writers.

When Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel), a popular actor on one of Howie’s shows, is also blacklisted and has nowhere left to work, he agrees to spy on Howie for the McCarthy-witch hunters, and soon Howie finds himself in the middle of an investigate committee himself.

"The Front" is a wonderful film, making the very best of Allen’s erratic acting style to create this seemingly intellectual character who, in reality, can barely read. The film’s style and visual vocabulary truly brings to life the glory and excitement of early television, as well as the dark clouds the McCarthy witch hunts cast over the American culture. Every moment feels authentic, every character feels alive, and every word seems poignant. That is "The Front," a true entertainment highlight.

Additional credibility is being lent to the film by the fact that many of the people involved in this project were actually blacklisted during the 50s. Director, writers, producers, and actors, all were part of this particular period and had to suffer through it. "The Front" in a way seems their way of dealing with it in a bittersweet way without completely moralizing about it, but sprinkling it with a bit of humor and wit. The message however, is never drowned out.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is bringing the film to DVD in both a 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> version that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets, as well as a <$PS,fullframe> presentation. The image is clean and clear – apart from the deliberate speckles and scratches that are part of the opening and closing scenes of the film to establish authenticity and credibility. Colors in this production are by design somewhat muted and the DVD does a great job to reproduce them faithfully. Skin tones are naturally rendered and blacks are deep and solid. No edge-enhancement is visible in the picture, giving it a solid, very film-like quality, which adds greatly to the overall effect of the movie. The compression has been handled very well and no compression artifacts are evident anywhere.

The audio on the release comes as a
Sadly, "The Front" does not contain any extras other than a trailer. Given the nature of the film it would have been invaluable for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment to attach additional supplements that uncover more of the effects that the UnAmerican Activities Subcommitte had on the entertainment industry at the time – or all of America for that matter. The injustice, the blackmailing, the borderline psychological torture that was used by the committee to extort lies out of people certainly allows for plenty of commentary, documentation and investigation. It is clearly a missed opportunity to omit any such exploration on this DVD – even more so as a documentary called "The Making Of The Front" has been created for TV in 1976.

Nonetheless, "The Front" is a DVD that I highly recommend. It is charming, entertaining, thought-provoking, intelligent and funny. If you love woody allen, you will love "The Front." If you love the entertainment industry and its supposed glamour, you will love this movie, taking a satirical peek behind the scenes of one of its darkest moments. Either way, you won’t get around this film. Check out "The Front."