This 1976 film, which didn’t attract a lot of attention when it was first released, is surprisingly good. and once again seems very topical.
Woody Allen, in a rare (and surprisingly restrained) dramatic performance, plays a guy who agrees to act as a “front” for four blacklisted writers. Things don’t go as smoothly as everyone expects. In the hyper-paranoid environment of the early 1950s, having no background is almost as suspicious as having a “lefty” one.
Although two of the principal actors (Allen and Zero Mostel) are best known for their comic work, and there are some funny scenes, this is no comedy. The scenes between Allen, struggling to balance the ethics of his new job with the large amounts of money he is “earning,” and Mostel, as a guy who has spent his whole life as a successful entertainer and now can’t get a job doing standup in the Borscht Belt, are wonderfully done, and powerfully affecting.
The film’s director, writer and two of its principal stars (Mostel and Herschel Bernardi) were all themselves victim of the blacklist. This movie is obviously personal for many of the participants. But despite (or maybe because) of that, they just let the story play out as it did in real life, without a lot of added drama or after-the-fact preachiness. The movie is all the more powerful for that restraint. It also does a better job than Trumbo, I think, in laying out the anti-Semitic undertones behind a lot of the investigations into the entertainment industry. Indeed, “Hollywood” is still code for “Jews” in certain quarters.
Available on Amazon streaming for $2.99 — hard to quarrel with that.
Weird Trivia: Both Mostel and Bernardi did a lot of work on Broadway. Mostel is famous for having originated the role of Tevye in the long-running Fiddler on the Roof. When Mostel ultimately left the production, he was replaced by Bernardi.