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Front (the)

Between this being Woody Allen's first serious role, an ironic treatment of the serious McCarthyist show-business blacklisting of the early 1950s, and because the film's director, author, and two of its stars were themselves blacklisted, "The Front" offers many insights about, and the "feel" of, life in a shameful decade of American history.

As in other Allen movies, "The Front" shows his character's comical insecurities. To help his victimized clients, Harry must come across as a competent scriptwriter to a team of television professionals. The political issues of the day are outside Harry's own experience, yet the movie makes a larger statement about those, even while offering laughs about a schlemiel trying to cope and thrive.

Allen plays a New York coffee-shop cashier whom an old buddy, a Communist sympathizer, asks for help when the friend is blacklisted, meaning he can no longer sell his television scripts. He thinks Harry can front them by pretending to be their author.

But when Harry walks into a studio with a script, he can't discuss or analyze it with the show's production staff. Even so, a pretty producer's assistant (Andrea Marcovicci) loves the screenplay's deep, human insights. Thinking those are from Harry's sharp mind, she falls for him. If Harry is found out, will he lose her? And, will his friends go under?

Initially, the moral issues are lost on Harry; blacklisting is only a situation comedy's backdrop. However, Harry sees blacklisting's effects, and must at last take a stance -- which he doesn't manage to do heroically. Even so, Allen shows how even the action of one weak man can further a cause. His character benefits from doing the right thing in a way that's both funny and encouraging.

Zero Mostel as Hecky Green, a blacklisted comic, is astonishingly convincing and heart-wrenching. The most-injured character, he remains beyond Harry's help, but lets us see and believe that the political situation permanently ruined many creative lives. A blustering, cocky, top actor on TV, Hecky suddenly can't get work, not even in the lower-prestige of stand-up comedy at resorts in the Catskill Mountains. His effect on Harry -- and on us -- show how so-called "anti-Communist" blacklisting damaged hundreds of people.
Director(s): Martin Ritt
Writer(s): Walter Bernstein
Cast: Woody Allen, Michael Murphy, Zero Mostel, Andrea Marcovicci, and Herschel Bernardi
Release Date: 1976   
Keyword: McCarthyism; black-listing; HUAC; Woody Allen; television wr
Target Age: 14+   Category: political
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
Review: http://MRQE
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Front Page (The)

In this 1974 remake, Billy Wilder is back on familiar comic turf: Jazz Age Chicago, where he set the spectacular fun of his classic farce "Some Like It Hot." Again, he elicits good fun from veteran actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, in a comedy-with-a-message that gets even funnier in the second half. The zingy wit and staccato energy remind us a little of "His Girl Friday," another of four films based on Hecht and MacArthur's 1928 Broadway hit, "The Front Page."

The sixth of Wilder's seven films with Lemmon casts the two-time Oscar winner as ace newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson. When crusty editor Walter Burns (Matthau) needs a scoop, Hildy's his man to bring back juicy reports from Chicago's crime-ridden 1920s' streets. Burns is now unhappy, to put it mildly, that Hildy is quitting his job to marry his sweetheart, Peggy (Sarandon) in Philadelphia. With just hours until the high-visibility execution of nebbishy cop-killer Earl Williams (Pendleton), Burns needs Hildy to cover the doomed man's final walk.

Although Hildy claims he's quitting journalism forever, Burns lures his star reporter back. Bickering like an old married couple, the two men stumble onto a scheme involving the crooked mayor (Gould) and his dullard sheriff (Gardenia), who want to exploit Williams' execution for political gain. Carol Burnett has a shrill, non-comedic turn as Williams' devoted hooker girlfriend, Molly Malloy.

But this version of "The Front Page" could have been funnier, subtler, and less crude. Although the stars rattle it off with as much enthusiasm as they can, Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's dialogue lacks zest. Hurling mutual barbs, Matthau and Lemmon hit the mark, but given their inspired pairing in Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie," and "The Odd Couple," their one-liners should be effortlessly hilarious. The best laughs here are in the later part of the film, when Burns and Hildy try to hide recently-escaped Williams from other reporters and the slow-minded sheriff.

The film, panned by critics and ignored by audiences in 1974, was Wilder's third-from-final: at nearly 70, he made only "Fedora" (1978) and the unfortunate "Buddy, Buddy" (1981), also starring Lemmon and Matthau. But if you're a Wilder fan, you'll enjoy this and all his collaborations with Lemmon.
Director(s): Billy Wilder
Writer(s): Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Cast: Walter Amttahau, Jack Lemmon,Carol Burnett, Susan Sarandon, Austin Pendleton, Harold Gould
Release Date: 1974   
Keyword: 1920s' newspapers; judicial corruption; capital punishment
Target Age: 13+   Category: media
Documentary: no
Language: English   Reviewer's Name: Micah
Review: http://MRQE
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