The Front
Critical dialogue

by Reynold Humphries

from Jump Cut, no. 16, 1977, pp. 37
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1977, 2005

At the risk of being denounced as puerile and arrogant, I should like to express my complete agreement with Michael Rosenthal's views on THE FRONT (Jump Cut No. 14).

What does the film do? It gives the impression that blacklisting was the result of pressure by individual sponsors of TV programs, thus suppressing the role of Wall Street and, by extension, the need for capitalism to remove all domestic challenge. This is serious enough, but worse is to come.

Woody Allen's defiance of the Committee is not political. It is moral: commitment to a woman who is there primarily to allow him to stand up (literally) and be a man. Politically this is right-wing (individualism first). It is also sexist: the woman, albeit sympathetic and progressive, functions for the man. Thus when he is taken off to prison, she is there and we, the audience, know she'll be waiting for him when he gets out and that they'll live happily ever after. Audience fantasies and desire for a "happy end" (plus the desire for the film to continue after it has finished) are taken care of and politics get the cold shoulder.

Not only is "go fuck yourselves!" hardly a political statement, the circumstances are highly dubious. To start with Allen plays a neat game of linguistic hide-and-seek, but the film must have a hero and a martyr. So he must be forced to choose. When he does, it is not from a political choice — argued and defended — but because he is forced to. And how? By a rabbit pulled out of the hat: his illegal gambling! So it all boils down to that, the only device the filmmakers could find to precipitate a "choice" on Allen's part. And what a device! The gambling having been introduced "naturally" in the early sections of the film, it can now come back safely without striking the audience as "unmotivated." Thus the film appears as homogeneous and natural, "true to life," free of those discrepancies and contradictions that are inherent in the social condition, but are abhorred in texts where only unity and coherence count. All the business with apples and bets is there to "explain" the confrontation, or rather, the narrative structure that contains it. Ritt and Bernstein were incapable of making a political choice themselves in the film. As Rosenthal says of THE FRONT: "it merely relocates the signs that tell the audience whom to cheer and whom to boo." The fact that blacklist victims like the movie only goes to show that they too are victims of a cinema that puts everything before politics.