The Front (1976)

R | 94 mins | Comedy-drama | 30 September 1976

Director:

Martin Ritt

Producer:

Martin Ritt

Cinematographer:

Michael Chapman

Editor:

Sidney Levin

Production Designer:

Charles Bailey

Production Company:

Columbia Pictures
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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and Note were written by participant David Marriott, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

The film begins with a montage of black and white newsreel footage featuring American figures from the post-WWII era, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, General Douglas MacArthur, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. These images are interspersed with images of WWII veterans returning home from war and beauty pageant hopefuls. The end credits begin by identifying six cast and crew members who had themselves been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee; director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein, co-star Zero Mostel, and actors Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and Joshua Shelley. Their credits are followed by the year in which their blacklisting went into effect.
       The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was formed with a mandate to investigate real or suspected communists with actual or supposed influence in American society. In 1947, HUAC interrogated motion picture professionals about possible infiltration of communist propaganda in Hollywood films. A group of filmmakers known as “The Hollywood Ten,” (screenwriter Alvah Bessie, screenwriter and director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Lester Cole, director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter,Ring Lardner, Jr., screenwriter John Howard Lawson, screenwriter Albert Maltz, screenwriter Samuel Ornit, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) refused to cooperate, claiming that the hearings were unconstitutional; they were convicted for contempt of Congress. Upon their release from prison, they were “blacklisted” and unable to find work in Hollywood under their own names.
       ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and Note were written by participant David Marriott, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

The film begins with a montage of black and white newsreel footage featuring American figures from the post-WWII era, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, General Douglas MacArthur, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. These images are interspersed with images of WWII veterans returning home from war and beauty pageant hopefuls. The end credits begin by identifying six cast and crew members who had themselves been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee; director Martin Ritt, writer Walter Bernstein, co-star Zero Mostel, and actors Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and Joshua Shelley. Their credits are followed by the year in which their blacklisting went into effect.
       The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was formed with a mandate to investigate real or suspected communists with actual or supposed influence in American society. In 1947, HUAC interrogated motion picture professionals about possible infiltration of communist propaganda in Hollywood films. A group of filmmakers known as “The Hollywood Ten,” (screenwriter Alvah Bessie, screenwriter and director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Lester Cole, director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter,Ring Lardner, Jr., screenwriter John Howard Lawson, screenwriter Albert Maltz, screenwriter Samuel Ornit, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) refused to cooperate, claiming that the hearings were unconstitutional; they were convicted for contempt of Congress. Upon their release from prison, they were “blacklisted” and unable to find work in Hollywood under their own names.
       The “blacklist” increased to include hundreds of actors, directors, writers, musicians and composers. Although the blacklist was lifted in the 1960s, many of those banned never worked in Hollywood again.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, principal photography began 15 Sep 1975 in New York City and filming continued for eleven weeks in the following locations: Bonnefont Gardens at The Cloisters Museum; a sailing pond in Central Park; the offices of Rein, Rame and Gurvitch furriers; the Plaza Hotel, L’Aiglon Restaurant; Grand Central Station; the RCA Building, now known as the GE Building; PJ Murphy’s restaurant; the Argosy Book Store. Additionally, scenes were shot at Brown’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains.
       As noted in the 15 Sep 1976 HR review, the film marked the theatrical feature film debut for actress Andrea Marcovicci.
       A 9 Sep 1976 DV news item stated that the 5 Oct 1976 West Coast premiere at the National Theatre in Westwood, CA, was a fundraiser for Southern California American Civil Liberties (ACLU).
       The Front received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture – Female (Andrea Marcovicci) and an Academy Award nomination for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen—based on factual material or on story material not previously published or produced) for Walter Bernstein.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Sep 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1976
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
26 Sep 1976
p. 1.
New York Times
1 Oct 1976.
---
Variety
15 Sep 1976
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Martin Ritt Jack Rollins Charles H. Joffe Production
A Persky-Bright/Devon Feature
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
D.G.A. trainee
D.G.A. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Still man
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Master scenic artist
COSTUMES
Cost des
Mens ward
Ladies ward
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Matte eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Transportation capt
Prod auditor
Payroll
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Casting
Prod services
Video services
SOURCES
SONGS
"Young at Heart," sung by Frank Sinatra, music by Johnny Richards, lyric by Carolyn Leigh
"Anything for a Laugh," music by Carrie Hoffman, lyrics by Ira Gassman
"Come on Daisy," music by Carrie Hoffman, lyrics by Ira Gassman.
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 September 1976
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 30 September 1976
Los Angeles opening: 6 October 1976
Production Date:
began 15 September 1975 in New York
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
30 September 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46595
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Prints
Metrocolor
Duration(in mins):
94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24495
SYNOPSIS

While working as a cashier for a New York City bar in the early 1950s, Howard Prince is surprised by a visit from his school friend Alfred Miller, now a successful television writer. Alfred confides that television networks will no longer buy his scripts because he has been placed on an unofficial “blacklist” due to his Communist sympathies. When Alfred says his only hope is to have another person act as a “front” for his work, Howard agrees to put his name on Alfred’s scripts free of charge, but Alfred insists on paying ten percent of each script sale. Howard, who is perpetually in debt from his work on the side as a bookmaker, is thrilled by the arrangement. When Howard borrows money from his brother, a furrier named Myer Prince, to pay off bets placed by local merchants, including fruit seller Danny LaGattuta, he insists that he is on the verge of a lucrative career. Back at his ramshackle apartment, Howard receives his first phone call from one of Alfred’s clients. Pretending to be the writer of Alfred’s script, Howard goes to the television studio where a half-hour dramatic program called Grand Central is in production. There, he meets producer Phil Sussman and script editor Florence Barrett, who is enamored by what she believes to be Howard’s writing. The show’s star and narrator, Hecky Brown, joins Phil and Florence in praise of the script and Howard is tasked with rewrites. Sometime later, Francis X. Hennessey, an investigator at the Freedom of Information Service bureau, receives a phone call from television network executive Tom Hampton, who ... +


While working as a cashier for a New York City bar in the early 1950s, Howard Prince is surprised by a visit from his school friend Alfred Miller, now a successful television writer. Alfred confides that television networks will no longer buy his scripts because he has been placed on an unofficial “blacklist” due to his Communist sympathies. When Alfred says his only hope is to have another person act as a “front” for his work, Howard agrees to put his name on Alfred’s scripts free of charge, but Alfred insists on paying ten percent of each script sale. Howard, who is perpetually in debt from his work on the side as a bookmaker, is thrilled by the arrangement. When Howard borrows money from his brother, a furrier named Myer Prince, to pay off bets placed by local merchants, including fruit seller Danny LaGattuta, he insists that he is on the verge of a lucrative career. Back at his ramshackle apartment, Howard receives his first phone call from one of Alfred’s clients. Pretending to be the writer of Alfred’s script, Howard goes to the television studio where a half-hour dramatic program called Grand Central is in production. There, he meets producer Phil Sussman and script editor Florence Barrett, who is enamored by what she believes to be Howard’s writing. The show’s star and narrator, Hecky Brown, joins Phil and Florence in praise of the script and Howard is tasked with rewrites. Sometime later, Francis X. Hennessey, an investigator at the Freedom of Information Service bureau, receives a phone call from television network executive Tom Hampton, who requests an investigation to clear Howard of any past Communist affiliations. As Hecky Brown waits in Hennessey’s office, the investigator promises Hampton that he will report back on his interview with the actor. Hecky claims he is disinterested in politics but he confesses to marching in a May Day parade and subscribing to the Daily Worker to impress a love interest. Unmoved, Hennessey suggests that Hecky can save his career by writing a letter to “repent sincerely” and name Communist affiliates. Sometime later, Howard’s fronted episode airs on live television to great acclaim. Basking in his newfound success, Howard takes Florence to lunch at a fancy restaurant. Although she is romantically involved with a stockbroker, she is attracted to Howard’s flair for writing and agrees to another date, provoking Howard to stock up on classic American novels at a used bookstore. Still pressured to make good on his bookmaking debts, Howard visits Alfred and offers to front for additional blacklisted writers. Despite Alfred’s accusation that Howard is exploiting writers for financial gain, he introduces Howard to Herbert “Herb” Delaney and William Phelps. At a local diner, the men strategize about how to protect Howard from income tax scrutiny, but Howard tells them not to worry and later settles his debts in cash. Meanwhile, television executive Hampton learns from Hennessey that Howard has no ties to the Communist Party. While producer Phil Sussman is relieved because Howard is his only remaining writer on Grand Central, Hampton announces that Hecky’s letter was deemed unsatisfactory; Phil is ordered to fire his star performer. Over time, Howard continues to submit scripts on behalf of his friends. He buys tailored suits and moves into a high-end apartment. One day, as he delivers the script for a new episode to the television studio, Howard is ordered by Phil and Florence to rewrite a previous script on the spot, but he discreetly retrieves the edits from Alfred. That evening, Phil joins Florence in Hecky’s dressing room to report that his character must be eliminated from Grand Central. Despite Phil’s insistence to the contrary, Hecky assumes the dismissal is a result of his failed letter to Hennessey and Florence runs from the room in dismay. Sometime later, Hecky returns to Hennessey’s Freedom of Information Service office to beg for lenience, claiming he can no longer find work to support his family. Although Hennessey is indifferent, he suggests that Hecky will find more employers if he offers his services as a spy and reports on Howard’s associates. That evening, Florence arrives at Howard’s apartment, declaring that she left Grand Central in protest of Hecky’s dismissal. She intends to publish a pamphlet that exposes the injustice of the blacklist and enlists Howard as its writer, but he fears losing his celebrity and urges her to keep quiet. Florence accuses Howard of prioritizing success over human rights and leaves. Howard is eager to get out of town after the fight with Florence and agrees to drive Hecky to his latest job -- a club performance at a Catskill Mountain resort. On the way, Hecky reports that he once earned $3,000 a night, but the upcoming show will only gross $500 because of his recent blacklisting. When they arrive, the club owner professes he can pay just $300. Despite the slight, Hecky performs to a standing ovation. Afterwards, as Hecky becomes intoxicated at the bar, the club owner gives him $250 and Hecky lunges into an attack. Howard escorts Hecky back to his New York City apartment and invites the performer to stay the night. As Howard stirs in his bedroom, Hecky secretly lifts his host’s address book to make good on his deal with Hennessey. Sometime later, an FBI agent trails Howard from his bank to a meeting with Alfred, Herb and William at a nearby dinner. The agent then follows Howard as he visits Florence at her new bookstore job. He listens as Howard denounces the blacklist to get back into Florence’s good graces. The next day, Howard receives a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about his presumed Communist affiliates, including Florence. At a meeting with the television network lawyer, Howard agrees to recite a prewritten, anti-Communist testimony and act as a ‘”friendly witness.” However, when Hecky commits suicide and Howard observes the FBI agent taking photographs of funeral attendees, he grows increasingly aware of the injustice. Howard visits Florence and confesses that he is a front. Acknowledging the betrayal, he vows that Florence will know who he really is after his testimony. At the House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, Howard surprises his lawyer and the committee members by refusing to cooperate. Howard is threatened with imprisonment for bookmaking and for contempt of Congress, but his lawyer negotiates a deal: Howard can return to work if he identifies Hecky Brown as a Communist. Howard disparages the committee and walks out. Later, a handcuffed Howard kisses Florence in front of the train that will take him to prison. Alfred, William and Herb bid their friend farewell as a crowd of supporters wave placards that declare Howard a hero. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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