• As an entertainment, THE FRONT gives us Woody Allen in his most dimensional role and introduces the talented Andrea Marcovicci, who plays a script editor with committment and guts. As a political document, however, The Front dishes up the most self-serving array of left-liberal propaganda to emerge in many a year. Writer Walter Bernstein and producer-director Martin Ritt have concocted a semi-comic drama in which the good guys, the blacklisted artists and their associates, are recognizably human while the bad guys, the congressional investigators and private vigilantes, are stereotyped almost to the point of caricature. Woody Allen stars as a down-and-out cashier in a New York bar during the early 1950's, who is persuaded to "front" for a television writer who has been blacklisted for being an admitted communist sympathizer. The deal is that Woody will turn in the writer's scripts under his own name in exchange for 10 percent of the writer's pay. Soon Woody is being acclaimed as the brightest new television writer on the scene, and he begins syndicating his services to other blacklisted writers. Ironically, his sudden fame brings Woody himself to the attention of the investigators, and soon he is forced, against his nature, to take a stand for the first time in his life.
Zero Mostel plays the film's political innocent, a top box-office draw who is brought down by the blacklist for marching in a May Day parade and signing a petition to impress his communist girlfriend. He is effective as a jolly comedian who uses bluff and bluster to mask an inner terror. Andrea Marcovicci, as Woody's principled script editor and eventual romantic interest, comes across as the most sympathetic person in the film, aware of the hypocrisy and timidity of the networks in the face of the blacklist, and determined to fight the system. Herschel Bernardi is the personification of the network executive and his "don't rock the boat" attitude, while Remak Ramsay is cold-blooded and one-dimensional as a private vigilante who acts as a "clearance man" for the networks.
The performances are all competent or better, and Bernstein's script keeps things moving. But when all is said and done, the audience for The Front is confronted with a stacked deck, which favors one (partially legitimate) side of the blacklisting controversy, while conveniently omitting facts which do not suit its peculiar brand of revisionist history. Ignored, for instance, is a pervasive liberal-left orthodoxy which existed among the Hollywood elite long before the blacklist, and which persists to this day, as witness the clamor among 90 percent of the Hollywood community for greater government subsidies of the arts. This orthodoxy accomplishes subtly and informally what the blacklist attempted to accomplish formally: a uniformity of political opinion, especially pronounced in the television networks, which can cripple the career of anyone who challenges it. Also glossed over in The Front is the glaring contradiction of a group of people claiming the protection of First Amendment rights while advocating the totalitarian ideology of Stalinist Russia. In at least some cases, there is poetic justice in the fact that communist writers were given a taste of their own ideology. This, of course, does not excuse the political opportunists and their vigilante henchmen, who trampled lives and careers with a systematic assault on civil liberties, and in the process whipped up an anticommunist hysteria that attacked people rather than ideas. In essence, what has happened is that 25 years ago, the U.S. Congress used its most visible medium, the investigative committee, to attack and discredit people it considered to be communists and leftists in the entertainment community. Now many of these same people are using their most visible medium, the motion picture, to get even.
The Front is an interesting period movie, if one takes into account the biases of those who brought it to the screen. But for the sake of historical accuracy, it is important that The Front not be taken at face value. Rated "PG."
• BUGSY MALONE is an unusual film, to put it mildly. A spoof of both gangster films and musicals of the 1930's, it is played entirely with children in adult roles. And it works! Writer-director Alan Parker has encouraged his young actors to take their roles seriously, even when trading cream pies in the face at close range, or pedaling furiously in their getaway cars. One perceives them not as children, but as scaled-down adults. The occasion is a New York depression-era gang war, in which Fat Sam (John Cassisi) attempts to defend his territory against marauding Dandy Dan (Martin Lev). The gangland balance of power has been upset by the introduction of the deadly Splurge Gun, a machine gun which shoots gooey marshmallows. Fat Sam's cream-pie grenades are no match for the new weapon. Enter Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), who becomes Fat Sam's driver to earn enough money to take his chorus-line girlfriend (Florrie Dugger) to Hollywood so she can become a star. Bugsy leads a daring raid on the Splurge Gun warehouse, and becomes involved in the final shootout, which leaves no face un-pied. The cast is composed almost entirely of talented unknowns, the only name star being Jodie Foster as Fat Sam's moll, who tries to get something going with Bugsy on the side. Paul Williams' songs fit nicely into the picture, adding to its '30's flavor. Rated "G."