The Front (1976)

“Take care of yourself. The water is full of sharks.” In a rare non-directorial outing, Woody Allen stars as “Howard Prince,” a lowly cashier, bookie and degenerate gambler in New York City during the early 1950s who agrees to serve as a “front” for his childhood friend “Alfred Miller” (Michael Murphy), a television writer who has become a victim of the Hollywood blacklist. By signing his name to Miller’s scripts and receiving 10 percent royalties on every script sold, Prince begins raking in the cash and getting out of debt. Before you know it, Prince is fronting for several other blacklisted writers and becoming famous in the process (in an amusing scene at a diner he even starts instructing the agitated writers on how to make their scripts better!). Prince also starts dating script editor “Florence Barrett” (Andrea Marcovicci), who actually believes he is a brilliant writer. Zero Mostel portrays the annoyingly amusing “Hecky Brown,” whose career is totally destroyed when he gets blacklisted (there’s a great scene where Hecky goes ballistic after he gets cheated out of a promised fee during a gig in the Catskills). Before you know it, Prince finds himself under investigation and soon has to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. A low-key comedy-drama that exposes the devastating impact of the McCarthy era, The Front was written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt (Norma Rae), both of whom (along with Mostel) were blacklisted during the 1950s. Critic Roger Ebert gave The Front just 2.5 stars, calling it “the adventures of a schlemiel in wonderland.”

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