The filmmakers — screenwriter Bernstein, director Ritt, Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough — were all victims of the Hollywood blacklist (the name of each in the closing credits is followed by "(Blacklisted 19xx)"); Bernstein was listed after being named in the FBI-published “Red Channels” journal that identified alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers.
Possibly in the interest of legal protection, The Front is about the television and nightclub blacklist, rather than the Hollywood Blacklist; surprising, since the credits include a half-a-dozen artists who had suffered the blacklist.
Howard is an apolitical man who needs money, so he immediately agrees. As he becomes "a success", in the superficially materialistic 1950s sense, Miller’s other friends hire him as their front. Contemporaneously, the blacklisting — the professional humiliation, personal destruction, and death — of established comic actor Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel) exemplifies McCarthyism's true, impotent nature — the mediocre destroying the talented.
As Howard witnesses the low, terrible actions of the right-wing “Freedom Information Services”, the privately-owned, vetting business of an ex-FBI policeman, the harsh reality of his friends' lives, living and working in secrecy, because of past beliefs and leftist-liberal politics forces Howard to take a stand. In the event, he is subpoenaed to testify before a HUAC committee informed with gossip- and innuendo-based "intelligence" from “Freedom Information Services”. After briefly enduring HUAC mental torture — including being asked to speak ill of the dead Hecky Brown, Howard acts.
Roger Ebert, on the other hand, dismissed the political value of The Front: "What we get are the adventures of a schlemiel in wonderland". He felt that the Woody Allen character was too comic and unconvincing a writer to represent the true nature of "front" writers. He added, however, that Hecky Brown was a worthwhile character: "The tragedy implied by this character tells us what we need to know about the blacklist's effect on people's lives; the rest of the movie adds almost nothing else". (Ebert, 1976)
In 2000, author Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley wrote that The Front and other Hollywood movies about McCarthyism whitewashed the historical context in which it occurred: "Viewers of such fare could easily conclude that communism scarcely existed except as a source of boundless optimism in the hearts of the country's most creative writers.
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