‘Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’

July 10, 2014 | By

Front1976_BRJust posted is a review of Twilight Time’s excellent Blu-ray edition of Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein’s The Front, a tight little satire on the Hollywood Blacklist which stalled, diverted, and in many cases ruined careers of so-called Communist sympathizers.

It was a blatant witch hunt in modern times, administered by HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) with main point-man Sen. Joseph McCarthy demanding witnesses name-names not to route out actual Reds, but maintain a machine whose existence depended on the appearance of success. If HUAC could publish a steady tally of exposed spies, convictions, and reprimanded Communist sympathizers, the Committee’s employees had guaranteed jobs.

What The Front also exposes is the fringe businesses that enjoyed some level of protection in hiring out their snooping services to prove, disprove, or make up background checks for potential / existing employees by TV and radio networks paranoid that any hint of a Red in their midst would upset their dependence on sponsors.

Woody Allen is very strong in a more or less dramatic role, and Zero Mostel is quite compelling as a hit comedian forced back to the Borscht Belt clubs at cut rates after he’s dumped from a successful TV gig. Mostel was one of many comedians who worked the clubs in the Catskills, a training ground for new talent and ideas that was documented by Melvut Akkaya and Ron Frank in their 2013 film When Comedy Went to School.

There have been several docs and fictional pokes at HUAC (it’s a huge subject, especially if one adds the careers of working blacklisted filmmakers and writers, such as the makers of Christ in Concrete), but two films I’m still waiting to see on DVD are Phillip Saville’s Fellow Traveller (1991) about a U.S. writer working in Britain, and Witch Hunt (1994), Paul Schrader’s sequel to the HBO teleplay Cast a Deadly Spell (1991), mixing magic, witches, politics and persecution.

Come to think of it, where’s Spell as well?

Last footnote before I prep tomorrow’s review – Sage Stallone’s short film Vic (2006) – is an anecdote from a friend who hired a classmate to film his sister’s wedding back in university days. As the videographer  (himself a peculiar wit) roved around the guests, pointing the camera at friends & family members, once in a while one could clearly hear the question “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

This isn’t to belittle the wretched witch hunt begun by HUAC, but I admit that on occasion, when I hear the term HUAC, I flash back to the footage of a puzzled guest as he’s asked such a non-traditional wedding question while noshing on an hors d’oeuvre. There may have been an F-bomb in the long-gone outtakes, but we’ll never know.

Coming next: Stallone’s Vic (Grindhouse Releasing), and Blue Movie (Raro Video) from enfant terrible Alberto Cavallone.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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