The mid-1970s were rife with conspiracies and cover-ups on cinema screens, but a movie opened this day in 1976 that was a hybrid conspiracy of subtle humor and shattering dramatic impact. Woody Allen plays the unlikely lead in the title role of The Front, the compulsively grabbing tale of an apolitical ordinary guy in a hugely turbulent political time: the 1950s McCarthy-era communist witch-hunts. Agreeing to be the “front” of a TV writer pal who’s been blacklisted, he becomes the new darling of the New York TV Production community. Of course, he’s riding for a fall – and the rise of his own conscience. The talents behind The Front were all veterans of the time: director Martin Ritt, screenwriter Martin Bernstein and co-stars Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi knew the territory and survived that career-destroying era, which is why the laughter and the tragedy hit home with unadulterated force. Allen, then quite content with his burgeoning movie career as a writer/director of crowd-pleasing comedies, was equally content with stepping in here only as an actor. “The reason I did The Front was that the subject was worthwhile,” he said. “Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein lived through the blacklist and survived it with dignity, so I didn’t mind deferring to their judgment.” Playing an aspiring TV producer who falls for Allen’s character, movie-debuting Andrea Marcovicci recounts her warm experiences working with this band of beleaguered brothers in a lively conversation with Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman on the Audio Commentary of TT’s The Front hi-def Blu-ray.
Another movie great who lived through good and bad times was born this day 87 years ago. Happy Birthday to the late Roddy McDowall (1938-1998), who grew from child star to Broadway Tony® winner to reliable character actor with amazing grace and omnipresent wit, evidenced in his prose and photographic devotion to Hollywood history. In Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-rays of Man Hunt (1941), Funny Lady (1975) and the twice-sold-out Fright Night (1985), he bears evidence to an amazing career of memorable performances – and charming survival.