In the 1970s, Columbia Pictures then-president Peter Guber was given a script for a film starring Woody Allen. “I called my boss David Begelman and said, ‘There has to be a mistake,’ ” Guber recalls. “There’s not a laugh in it!” The film was The Front (1977), and it was a stark departure from Allen’s comedy writing and standup days, preceding Annie Hall by a year. In the film, directed by Martin Ritt, Allen stars as a New York deli clerk who ghost writes for blacklisted scribes. The poster featured Allen throwing up his hands in a “What me, worry?” pose with the tag line, “America’s Most Unlikely Hero.”
“After seven minutes, the preview audience wasn’t laughing anymore,” Guber recalls. “The film didn’t associate with Woody Allen’s brand of comedy. The audience had an expectation going into the theater.” Critics were divided over The Front, and the film’s box office didn’t hit the $20 million to $30 million take of Allen’s other films, considered big by ’70s standards.
Fast-forward several years, when Bill Murray followed up his role in the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters with a dramatic turn in The Razor’s Edge, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel about a World War I vet who goes off the grid to India. The film was slaughtered at the box office and also by critics, such as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert, who blamed Murray for the movie’s dullness. (more…)