Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Front

Musta lista / Den svarta listan. US © 1976 Devon Company. Distributor: Columbia. P: Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins, Martin Ritt, Robert Greenhut (ass.prod.) / Charles H. Joffe. D: Martin Ritt. SC: Walter Bernstein. DP: Michael Chapman. AD: Charles Bailey, Robert Drummheller. M: Dave Grusin. "Young At Heart" (Carolyn Leigh, Johnny Richards) perf. Frank Sinatra. ED: Sidney Levin. Cost: Ruth Morley. Make-up: Robert Jiras, Philip Leto. Cast: Woody Allen (Howard Prince), Zero Mostel (Hecky Brown), Herschel Bernardi (Phil Sussman), Michael Murphy (Alfred Miller), Andrea Marcovicci (Florence Barret), Remak Ramsay (Hennessey), Marvin Lichterman (Myer Prince), Lloyd Gough (Delaney), David Margulies (Phelps), Joshua Shelley (Sam), Norman Rose (Howard's attorney), Charles Kimbrough (committee counselor), Danny Aiello (Danny La Gattuta), Georgann Johnson (tv interviewer), Scott Mckay (Hampton), David Clarke (Hubert Jackson). 95 min. A vintage print with Finnish [good] and Swedish subtitles. Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Woody Allen), 9 June 2011.

An excellent satire and serious comedy about the black list in New York television in 1953. The director Martin Ritt, the screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and the actors Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough have credit designations "blacklisted in 19.." in the same way as during wartime film credits were endowed with military ranks.

Woody Allen plays a small-time bookmaker, Howard Prince, who does not hesitate to come to the rescue of his blacklisted screenwriter friend as a front. Soon there is a whole group of writers whom he fronts. Finally he cannot escape the House Un-American Activities Committee, turning the hearing into a farce, and his final comment is an intentional expression of contempt.

There are many great scenes. The script editor Florence Barret: "you are the only writer I know who doesn't want to talk about writing". The gas chamber in the concentration camp flashback has to be changed because the sponsor is a gas company. The "practically illiterate" Prince turns into a schoolmaster for the real authors: "the key word is substance". The tragedy is crystallized in the story of Hecky Brown who turns into a traitor and commits suicide. The awakening of Howard Prince is believable. He is a gambler and a swindler but he also has a core of integrity.

Shot by Michael Chapman in a realistic style with warm hues. The vintage print looks ok.

P.S. 17 June, 2011 at the Porttikoski Falls (Sodankylä) I told Michael Chapman I had seen The Front the week before and thanked him for the cinematography. He had unhappy memories of it and blamed himself for the concept of trying to make the film look like 1950s television. I reassured him that the film looks fine and the unsuccessful touches he was referring to would be minor.

I liked also the opening montage of early 1950s newsreels, a way of bringing in a lot of period imagery without having to put that into expensive and superfluous art direction.

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