Ken Lyen's Home
Ken's Links
London Revisited 2000
Letter from London 2006
Singapore Musical Theatre
Making the Grade
Writing Musicals
Musicals from Movies
Fred Ebb
The Story of Chess
Mama Mia
Bad Vibrations
Chestnuts 2003
Chestnuts 2004
Chestnuts 2005
Incubating New Musicals
List of Musicals on Film
Is Musical Theatre Dead?
Is Classical Music Dead?
Is Poetry Dead?
Why Read Poetry?
New Words
Nothing's Wrong
Hippie Dictionary
Singlish Dictionary
Blog Dictionary
Best of the Best
English Spoke
Reading in Decline
Too Many Books
Magic of Reading
Pablo Neruda
Graphic Novels
Writers Bar
Lost For Words
Encyclopedia Wars
Library in Cyberspace
The Bridge
Growing A Film Industry
Great Levellers
Rote Rites and Rongs
Beautiful Minds
Create Talented Individuals?
Rise of the Creative Class
Perchance to Dream
Children's EQ
Gifted Education
Gifted Children
Mozart Effect
Confucius and Multiple Intelligences
Predicting Your Future
Mistyping Personality
Messy Homes
Does Age Matter?
Too Young for Philosophy?
Philosopher for Hire
Deconstructing Derrida
University Quotas
Ranking Universities
University Ranking Continued
The Future of Universities
If Thine Eye Offends Thee
If It Ain't Broke
New Exams for Old!
Too Many Test
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Childhood Memories
Signs of Success
Follow Your Dreams
First Impressions
Handphone Etiquette
Handphones Silenced
Apple Of My i
Sex and the Media
The Greeks
Geographic Clangers
Domino Theory
Hello Kitty
Heels on Wheels
What a Racket!
Potty Training
Skip to the Loo
Corporal Punishment
Is Modern Art Rubbish?
Mona Lisa Grins
Sunday in the Park
Vision and Art
Spam Glorious Spam!
Humble Pie
Sour Grapes?
Murphy's Law Calculator
Perfect Search
False Logic
Noah's Ark
Who Discovered America?
Palaces of Dictators
Joys of Stress
Games Academics Play
Virtual Reality Treatmemt
Autistic Underconnectivity
Asperger Syndrome
Pay Attention!
Attention Deficit
Speech Delay
Almost Normal
Prozac Nation
Gilles de la Tourette
Singapore Medicine
Virtual Dissection
War Against Malaria
Into the Frying Pan
Back to Methuselah
Poetic Medicine
Far Eastern Economic Review
History of the Singapore Musical
My Research
Singapore Idle
Best Countries
Brain Drain
Greatest Happiness
Remaking Singapore
Singapore Nobel Prize
Singapore MRT Map
National Day
Caste System
Doctors' Fees
Leadership and Teambuilding
Doctor Do-Much
Play it Again, Doc
A Dose of Music
Prescription for the Heart
Multiple Personality
Fly By Night
Rape of Nanking
Iris Chang
Anne Frank
Angela's Ashes
The Notebook
Hollywood Insider
Fahrenheit 9/11 Pirates
The Front
The Barbarian Invasions
Les Choristes
The Return
Road Home
Farewell My Concubine
So You Want to be a Nurse
School House Rockz
Makan Place
e-mail me

The Front


The Front
Starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel
Directed by Martin Ritt and written by Walter Bernstein
Reviewed by Kenneth Lyen
Rating 4 stars out of 4

The Front (1976) is a film set in New York during the McCarthy witch hunts against the communists some 50 years ago. It is about filmmakers and actors who were blacklisted as socialists or their sympathizers. The theme is eerily topical because of the recent blacklisting of singer-songwriter Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) and other Muslims by the United States government.

Woody Allen neither wrote nor directed The Front. Instead he plays the lead role of a neurotic bum, Howard Prince. He is a deli cashier and pathetic part-time bookie, with no talent and no political convictions. His desires are making money with the least effort possible, and getting laid.

Howard is approached by an old friend, Alfred Miller, a TV writer who is blacklisted as a communist sympathizer. Unable to find work, Miller persuades Howard to submit scripts under his name. In other words Howard acts as Miller’s "front." When the scripts are sold, he keeps a percentage of the fees. Easy money. But ever greedy, Howard asks to be the front for two other scriptwriters. He is quickly recognized by the television producers as a brilliant newly discovered screenwriter.

There are several wonderful comic moments in the film. One example is when the beautiful script editor, Florence Barrett (Andrea Marcovicci), tries to discuss intricacies of the script, but Howard manages to evade answering her. A subplot involves the love relationship between Howard and Florence. He is worried that she only loves him because of his writing prowess, rather than who he really is. Meanwhile, Florence feels that Howard should fight the blacklist, instead of looking the other way.

Another funny scene is when Howard gets the better of himself and assumes the role of a critic, telling his authors that their works are substandard.

All goes well for Howard until the FBI begins investigating his life, and it is not long that Howard himself is asked by the House Committee on Un-American Activities to name names. His lack of moral fiber and his willingness to cooperate with the authorities leads to his break up with the highly principled Florence.

Zero Mostel gives one of his best performances as the genial clown Hecky Brown whose career is threatened when he is blacklisted. He represents the era’s many dashed spirits, helpless when confronted with an enemy he cannot fight or understand. Mostel’s life falls apart, and as he changes from a successful comedian to an unemployed one, his despair gives the film a tragic tonality. Zero’s performance is indeed memorable, and well deserving of the British Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. It was one of his last film roles, as he died in 1977.

The Front picked up an Oscar nomination for Walter Bernstein's original screenplay. Andrea Marcovicci was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Acting Debut.

The director Martin Ritt, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and supporting actors Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Joshua Shelley, and Lloyd Gough, were all on the blacklist. Martin Ritt survived those dark years working as a drama teacher. Unfortunately many others had their careers destroyed, some even taking their own lives. Hence this film is Ritt and his colleagues’ contribution to the memory of the victims of McCarthyism. Its tone is not bitter, but comedy is used to gain insight and understanding about the absurdity of this insane era in American history.

There are several films made about the McCarthy witch hunts. Guilty by Suspicion (1991) stars Robert de Niro playing the role of a Hollywood film director who is asked by the House Committee on Un-American Activities to divulge the names of his friends whom he saw at some communist meetings. The Majestic (2001) is a film in which Jim Carrey plays the role of a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who is involved in a car accident and loses his memory. Citizen Cohn (1992) is a made for television movie about Roy Cohn, a ruthless McCarthy era prosecutor starring James Woods. Point of Order (1964) is a documentary compiled from TV footage of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the Army accused Senator McCarthy of improperly pressuring the Army for special privileges for Private David Schine, formerly of McCarthy's investigative staff. There is also a film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1996), which uses the Salem witch hunts of 1692 as an allegory of the McCarthy anticommunist frenzy.

The Front is a comedy with serious drama boiling underneath, struggling to erupt through. It is one of those rare films which is effective as a comedy while simultaneous delivering serious yet touching social commentary on the evils of blacklisting. Of all the films about McCarthyism, The Front affected me the most profoundly. I consider it to be the finest film to be made on this topic. It is a brilliantly written and acted morality play with a subject matter that is still highly relevant today especially with regard to the potential backlash against the Muslim minorities in America and Europe.

I recommend this film most highly.

The DVD of The Front is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is good, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound quality satisfactory. There are English, French, Japanese, and Korean subtitles. Unfortunately, apart from two theatrical trailers, there are no bonus materials.