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Film / The Front

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The Front is a 1976 comedy-drama film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Woody Allen as a bookie who acts as a front for television writers blacklisted during the Red Scare of the early 1950s.

The Front provides examples of:

  • Becoming the Mask: Though he doesn't become a genuine writer, Howard comes to sympathize with the blacklisted artists he's met, and refuses to give the HUAC members any names.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hecky Brown has taken his own life, and Howard has been carted off to jail. But not without standing up to the HUAC board.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with "Young at Heart" sung by Frank Sinatra.
  • Borscht Belt: Hecky has his roots there, and goes back to playing it after his blacklisting.
  • Casting Gag: Allen plays someone who is absolutely terrible at writing.
  • Despair Event Horizon: It's depressing to watch Hecky disintegrate under the pressure.
    Hecky: That girl you're with. What's her name?
    Howard: Florence.
    Hecky: (manic) A troublemaker. I heard her talking on the set. Subversive. She's a red. You like that girl?
    Howard: Yes, I like her.
    Hecky: Her name? Her full name.
  • Driven to Suicide: Hecky Brown, based on the real-life suicide of actor Philip Loeb, who was blacklisted and removed from his lead role in the sitcom The Goldbergs. The fact that Zero Mostel was friends with Loeb, AND died a year after the film's release, makes this even more of a Tear Jerker. invoked
  • The '50s: It takes place in 1953 during the height of the Red Scare.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Howard's bookie career bites him when the HUAC members threaten to charge him with illegal gambling unless he can give names of communist sympathizers.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Hecky claims to have only been attending Party meetings to get laid. "It was the girl with the big ass!"
  • Insane Troll Logic: The HUAC counselor seems to assume everyone is a subversive, so that when told someone is loyal, his response is along the lines of "For now, but he probably isn't." His reaction to someone complaining he's accused because he shares the same name as someone who is a suspect is "Well, everything will be okay because if you're innocent, you won't be accused and blacklisted", even though he's already accused and blacklisted.
  • Large Ham: Hecky Brown, played by Real Life Large Ham Zero Mostel.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Invoked. When put before the HUAC committee, Howard is able to dodge their questions by answering them in a way that prevents him from confirming anything. Unfortunately, the committee had another ace up their sleeve.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: The film opens with a montage of old newsreel clips depicting American life in the early 1950s, as Frank Sinatra's "Young at Heart" plays on the soundtrack.
  • Nice Guy: Howard. In the end, Hecky says this of him even though he's plainly jealous of Howard's meteoric rise, chiefly because Howard never abandons him.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • As noted above, Hecky Brown is based on Philip Loeb. The character's name is also most likely a Shout-Out to real-life comedian Shecky Greene.
    • Alfred Miller, not to be confused with actual blacklisted playwright Arthur Miller.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Howard is extremely apolitical — until the HUAC forces him to take a stand.
  • Precision F-Strike: The film's final line, delivered by Howard to the HUAC members.
  • Red Scare: The Second Red Scare, as it's known.
  • Sad Clown: Hecky again.
  • Sadistic Choice: Whether to besmirch the name of a dead man to protect your blacklisted friends and save yourself from prison or take a moral stand. It's harder when the blacklisted friends are all divided — one wants him to save himself, another says to tell the truth, and a third advises him to take the Fifth Amendment.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Florence is a WASP from Connecticut, while Howard is, well, not.
    Florence: I was very well bred. The kind of family where the biggest sin was to raise your voice.
    Howard: Oh, yeah? In my family the biggest sin was to buy retail.
  • Stage Names: In-universe, Hecky Brown's real name is Herschel Bronstein.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Subverted and defied. Howard continues to insist on a friendship with Hecky even though he's been blacklisted and associating with him during the Red Scare could get him accused.
  • Uptown Girl: Played with. Florence comes from a genteel, educated upper-class background and is clearly mismatched with the working-class Howard, but the main conflict between them turns out to be between her political idealism and his pragmatic desire for success and comfort. He wins her over in the end by refusing to cave to the HUAC.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Under pressure to "name names", Howard is told he can get off easily by naming Hecky, who is dead. No one would care, and nobody suspects Howard himself of being a sympathizer. Rather than take the easy way out, Howard chooses to honor his friends by telling the committee off, leading to his imprisonment.
  • Witch Hunt: The HUAC is conducting the real-life Red Scare attack on all alleged Communists or sympathizers.