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The McCarthy-inspired Blacklist in the late 40s and 50s is such a shameful incident in America's history that film and TV has largely steered clear of the subject altogether: you can count the films dealing with it directly on the fingers of one hand, so it sounds like damning with faint praise to say that the rarely revived The Front is the best of them all. That it's the `Woody Allen film' that time forgot hasn't helped it's reputation, but in truth, although many regular Allen collaborators from co-star Michael Murphy to producers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe are involved, this isn't an Allen film: some of the wisecracks may be tailor-made for him, but this is Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein's film and Allen's just playing a role, that of a cashier and small-time bookie who finds himself `fronting' for blacklisted writers for 10% of whatever they get for their scripts.

Kicking off with a superb scene-setting montage of the 50s at its best and worst, from baseball and apple pie to the Korean War and the execution of the Rosenbergs while Frank Sinatra sings Young at Heart on the soundtrack, it's a film that certainly speaks from personal experience. Along with writer Walter Bernstein and director Martin Ritt (who had both touched upon the blacklist more obliquely in 1970's The Molly Maguires) many of the cast - Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough, Joshua Shelley - were blacklisted, while the daughter of one of the blacklist's most tragic victims, John Garfield, also appears. Yet surprisingly it's not a whitewash: the blacklisted writers make it clear that they weren't put on the list by mistake but because they are communists, while Allen's front may start out on his new career as a favor to a friend but quickly shows his true opportunistic colors. No sooner has he seen how much money he can make than he's taking on more writers at higher rates, seducing Andrea Marcovicci's production assistant who is really in love with the words that aren't even his own rather than the man himself and getting ideas above his station, refusing to hand in scripts he thinks aren't up to his standards because "It's my name that goes on the script." In that he's really no different from anyone else in a world where club owners take advantage of the blacklist to get performers like Mostel's increasingly suicidal Hecky Green at bargain rates and then still knock them down even further after a sell-out show. But it's not long before he becomes a political suspect himself...

Set in the fledgling TV industry where gas company sponsors insisted on rewriting concentration camp dramas to avoid giving their product a bad image and where businessmen who only owned a couple of stores could demand - and get - the right of veto over any cast members they thought are `too red' for their customers' liking by threatening to withdraw a single commercial (both true incidents), it doesn't really need to resort to comic invention, but it's more of an absurd yet dry black comedy that's often too dark NOT to laugh at. The final scene where Allen comes up against the committee and tries to bluff his way out of a contempt charge is really just a piece of wish fulfilment, the kind of thing you wish you had said long after the moment has passed, but it's hard to begrudge Ritt and Bernstein their moment: they earned it. Running a tight hour-and-a-half and with great photography by Michael Chapman, it's well worth investigating.
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It's hard to put oneself into the mindset of post-WWII America, especially for those of us born a long after those troubled times. When I was at secondary school the powers that be seemed to want to help in this respect: I was amongst a generation that studied Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which was his creative reaction to the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunt of the 1950s. This interesting mid-seventies movie, in which Woody Allen acts but doesn't direct, is another such reaction, and involves numerous people who were themselves blacklisted in that infamous era of Cold-War paranoia.

For a message movie it's a bit off-balance: coming out of his early 'funny man' phase and into his more wide-ranging mid-70s mode, Allen pitches his role (against the predominantly straight playing of practically everyone else, with the stark exception of Zero Mostel) mostly toward the comic end, which doesn't always feel right. But despite this, the film is well worth watching, and much more of a success than a failure. As usual in both his life and art, Allen seems to punch above his weight in terms of leading-man luck with the ladies. This time it's with Andrea Marcovicci, whose long dead straight center-parted hair helps place the movie very much in its time, but with whom Allen's chemistry remains rather frigid.

At the time the tag-line for the movie was 'America's Most Unlikely Hero', and the film is basically the story of how Allen's Howard Prince character evolves from a fairly amoral no-hoper into a celebrity man of conscience. When one considers the reality that this film is depicting, it's pretty sobering, and really not very funny at all. And in actual fact, the film, despite usually being billed as a 'comedy drama' - and despite the way Allen and Mostel ham up their humorous contributions - is more serious drama than comedy.

So, not a perfect film, even a bit muddled in some respects. But definitely worth seeing.
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on 29 December 2009
Woody Allen is just an actor in this film,a bitter view of the McCarthy-era blacklisting of people working in the entertainment industry in the USA in the late 1940s-early 1950s.Allen plays a writer who attatches his name to work written by blacklisted writers in order for them to keep working and earning.
Not often seen-I last saw it on TV in the 1980s-but certainly worth watching.The twist is at the end credits,when a large chunk of the cast and writers,producers and others associated with the film are shown to have been blacklisted themselves.Given how they were treated,it's a wonder the film is far less twisted and angry than you would expect.
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on 25 September 2013
What's not to like if you are a Woody Allen fan, most especially of the latter period of his rich career. This story concerns itself with the Soviet witch hunt of particularly the artistic conclave in the US. As usual Woody's character demonstrates a charming nievity when he agrees to certain requests from some contemporaries within his circle and gets embroiled in his own investigation.

It's a familiar plot, but one that delights as it unfolds. Perhaps not everyones taste, but that's what enriches cinema
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on 1 August 2011
probably the best film starring but not scripted or directed by Woody Allen. A great supporting cast put in a series of top performances. Also an important reminder of a dark time in US post war history - lessons to be learned for today, replacing the communist menace with Islam? Laughter, tears, romance, heartbreak. A wonderful parable with a fabulous kick in the credits
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on 11 July 2004
Don't buy this film expecting to see a madcap comedy
from Allen. This is not a film full of one-liners and
slapstick mayhem. On the other hand it is also not as
serious as some of the dramas that he's made over the
years either. It stars him as the centrepiece to a plot
in which Allen fronts for blacklisted writers deemed
by the state to be communist or unpatriotic. The trouble
for Allen starts when there are too many writers to front
for. I think you have to be Woody Allen fan to enjoy this
film as much as I did, but even if you're not it's still
worth seeing.
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on 4 July 2015
A superb movie that is all the more poignant when you consider the fact that Zero Mostel was in fact blacklisted himself for many years.
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on 26 August 2013
This is a film about the heinous Macarthy period in the USA when people were blacklisted and prevented from working if there were suspicions of leanings towards communism. It gets the message across effectively and Woody Allen's humour naturally makes it more entertaining at the same time. Interesting to note that most of the film making crew were people who had been blacklisted in the 50s.
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on 17 October 2015
This film is brilliant. Funny and yet sad, it tells the story of a bookie who becomes a fence for writers blacklisted during the Macarthy era. The writing - Walter Bernstein - is excellent, as are the performances - great acting by Woody Allen and Zero Mostel. Life affirming and good for the heart.
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on 27 August 2014
I remember seeing this film when it first came out at the one of my favourite cinemas the Tyneside in Newcastle. Loved the mixture of politics and humour then and I think the quality of the writing has stood the test of time. It will always be in my top 10 favourites.
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