Hiding in Plain Sight: THE FRONT (Columbia 1976)

cracked rear viewer

When a film gets labeled as a “comedy-drama”, chances are good you’re in for an uneven film. Such is the case with THE FRONT, Martin Ritt’s 1976 movie about the 1950’s blacklist. There are plenty of things to like about the movie, especially in the performances, but the somewhat heavy-handed script by Walter Bernstein results in an undeniably mixed bag.

Woody Allen  stars as Howard Prince, a lowly cashier perpetually up to his glasses in gambling debts, whose childhood friend Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) is a blacklisted TV writer. Miller asks Howard to “front” for him, putting his name on Miller’s scripts so the networks will buy them, in return for a 10% commission. Soon the network clamors for more of Howard’s “work”, and he begins fronting for two other blacklisted writers. Although Woody didn’t write or direct THE FRONT, he’s still basically playing his nebbishy ‘Woody’ persona, but with…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: The Soft Skin, The Bride Wore Black, The Story Of Adele H, The Green Room

4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

In honor of Francois Truffaut’s birthday, here are…

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Soft Skin (1964, dir by Francois Truffaut)

The Bride Wore Black (1968, dir by Francois Truffaut)

The Story of Adele H. (1975, dir by Francois Truffaut)

The Green Room (1978, dir by Francois Truffaut)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Emigrants (dir by Jan Troell)

(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1972 best picture nominee, The Emigrants!)

Since I’m currently dealing with either a really bad cold or the onset of the flu (let’s hope that it’s the former), I decided that Monday would be the perfect night to stay up extremely late and watch a 190-minute Swedish movie.

The Emigrants was released in Sweden in 1971 and it received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.  Then, it was released in the United States in 1972 and it managed to receive four more Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.  The Emigrants was the third foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture, the first film to be nominated in multiple years, and also the first Swedish film to contend for the Academy’s top prize.  (The following year, Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers would also become the second Swedish film nominated for Best Picture.)  At the same time that The Emigrants was nominated for Best Picture, its sequel, The New Land, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.  1972 was an interesting year.

The Emigrants opens in 1844, in Sweden.  Karl Oskar (Max Von Sydow) has married Kristina (Liv Ullmann).  Like his father before him, Karl Oskar is a farmer.  It’s an exhausting life.  There is never enough food to eat.  The weather is perpetually gloomy.  The harvest is always disappointing.  As poor farmers, Karl Oskar and his family face constant prejudice.  In Sweden, the only thing more corrupt than the government is the church.  After one of his daughters starves to death, what choice does Karl Oskar and his family have other than to escape to America?

As Karl Oskar’s brother, Robert (Eddie Axberg), explains, the best rice comes from the Carolinas.  The best farmland is in America.  In America, anyone can become rich.  Anyone can walk up to the President and talk to him without running the risk of being imprisoned or executed.  (In 1844, ordinary citizens could stop by the White House and make an appointment to see the President.  This, of course, would change decades later, after a disgruntled office seeker shot President Garfield.)  In America, Robert says excitedly, no one works more than 14 hours a day!  Even slaves can own land and make their own money!

The Emigrants deals with their Karl Oskar and his family’s voyage to America.  Karl Oskar and Kristina do not travel alone.  Kristina’s uncle (Allan Edwall) is with them and hopes that, in America, he will be allowed to freely practice his religious beliefs.  A former prostitute, Ulrika (Monica Zetterlund), is also with them, hoping a new land will mean a better life for both herself and her daughter.  Even Robert’s best friend, Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt), going with them.  It’s not an easy journey.  Not everyone survives the voyage to North America but those that do soon find themselves in a young and untouched country where anything seems to be possible.

Swedish cinema has a reputation for being dark and brooding but those are two words that definitely do not apply to The Emigrants, which is about as positive a portrait of America as you could ever hope to see.  Regardless of whatever tragedy may occur during the journey, this movie leaves no doubt that the journey was more than worth it.  It unfolds at a pace that is perhaps a bit too leisurely but, at the same time, it’s also an achingly pretty movie with shots that bring to mind the best of Terrence Malick.  In fact, there are times when the film is almost too pretty.  It’s possible to get so caught up in looking at all the beauty around Karl Oskar and Kristina that you lose track of the story.  Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are both achingly pretty as well and, even more importantly, they’re believable as a married couple who are often equally in love and equally annoyed with each other.

It was interesting to go from watching The Grapes of Wrath to watching The Emigrants.  If The Grapes of Wrath was an American nightmare, The Emigrants is about as pure a celebration of the American Dream as you’re going to find.  It lost the Oscar for Best Picture to a far different film about the immigrant experience in America, The Godfather.

Music Video of the Day: Hungry by Winger (1988, directed by ????)

What do we have here?

00:12 — Newlyweds speeding on a curvy mountain road?  What could go wrong?

00:23 — There go the brakes!

00:31 — That sharp turn will look familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Duke boys outrun old Roscoe.

00:36 — It’s true what they say.  Right before you die, you hear the opening of a bad 80s song.

00:50 — I’ve gotten worst cuts from bumping my head on a low doorway.

00:57 — Dude, did you just leave your wife behind in the car?

00:59– This is Winger.  Kip Winger got his start as a backup musician and was a member of Alice Cooper for two years.  Until Nirvana changed the face of music, Winger was responsible for some of the most generic hits of the 1980s.

01:21 — How long until we get a shot of the man sitting alone on that same swing?

01:32 — “Look, I’m spinning around with my guitar!  Just like we did in practice!”

01:50 — “I remember how much we loved this wall.”

01:59 — It took 37 seconds to go from swinging together to swinging alone.

02:08 — Nobody came to the wedding but she’s going to go ahead and throw the bouquet anyway.

02:20 — It might be easier for the first responders to do their job if Winger would get out of the way.

02:46 — GUITAR!

03:07 — “My wife’s dead.  Time to learn how to play an instrument!”

03:15 — Watch out, he’s driving again.

03:22 — Did he ever figure out why his brakes out went out in the first place?  This might be a case for Jim Rockford.

03:36 — They still haven’t put out the fire?  Is this what my tax dollars are paying for?

03:38 — I would be pissed off too.  Put out the damn fire!

03:58 — That dude cannot drive.

04:12 — How does he keep doing this shit without getting a scratch on him?

04:27 — “How am I going to get home?”

To call Winger a “hair metal” band is probably an insult to hair metal bands but they did have a few hits.  They also got on the nerves of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead.