Front, The (1976): Ritt’s Oscar Nominated Dramedy about Blacklisting Era, Starring Woody Allen

Woody Allen stars in The Front, a drama about blacklisting, set during the years when many actors, writers, and directors were prevented from working because of their real and/or alleged political views.

Allen plays a nobody, a part-time bookkeeper who agrees to put his name on a script of a blacklisted friend from high school (Michael Murphy).
When rumor spreads that he is good at it, other writers enlist his services, and soon the nebbish develops a reputation and delusions of grandeur, to the point of believing in his own writing skills.
The film is directed by Martin Ritt, written by Walter Bernstein, and co-stars Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi, all men who were blacklisted in real life.
At the time, some critics raised questions over the film’s authenticity as a testament against the red-scare hysteria of the 1950s. No doubt, Ritt’s movie is compromised and too simplistic for its own good, not least due to the casting of Woody Allen, who was then at the height of his popularity as a comedian actor.
The critic Andrew Sarris has noted that Allen plays his role as an illiterate dupe, a low-grade Sammy Glick who peddles the scripts of blacklisted writers to the unsuspecting studios, and in the process, takes percentage of their earnings.
Hard to tell whether it was director Ritt or Allen, who by that time, had established a solid screen persona in his comedies, which here translates into making self-laudatory comments.
The real-life Mostel was a stand-in for the most vulnerable and helpless victims of the McCarthy era, out-of-work performers who couldn’t disguise their faces under aliases.
There’s certainly room for a good expose to counter the apologia for collaboration represented by Kazan’s On the Waterfront. So far, most of Hollywood pictures on this shameful and disgraceful era in Hollywood’s history have been critical disappointments, including the schmaltzy “The Way We Were” and the more serious but flawed “Guilty by Suspicion” (1991).
Dividing critics and slapped with mixed to negative reviews, “The Front” never found an audience and was declared a commercial flop.
Oscar Alert
Oscar Nominations: 1
Screenplay (Original): Walter Bernstein
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Original Screenplay was Paddy Chayefsky for “Network.”
Walter Bernstein’s name was cleared as late as 1959, after which he scripted fail Safe, The Molly Maguires, and The House on Carroll Street, among others.