A young lawyer investigates a possible corruption scandal centered
around a game show, its producers, and its big time winners.
Quiz Show (1994)
Directed by Robert Redford
Written by Paul Attanasio
Starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, Christopher McDonald, Martin Scorsese, Allan Rich, Mira Sorvino, Johann Carlo
Based on the book by Richard N. Goodwin
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor
(Paul Scofield), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Quiz Show is a great film that shows the corruption and greed of the television corporations, particularly the scandal surrounding the popular game show Twenty-One and its producers in 1958. Remember, this is a true story that ruined a lot of lives forever. Granted, most of them had it coming. The craziest thing about all of this is that everybody lost except the guys who were actually responsible. Once again, the rich and powerful come out on top while a scapegoat is thrown to the wolves. Again, the scapegoats had it coming.
Robert Redford directs this intriguing biopic that stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes in three stellar performances. John Turturro plays Herbie Stempel, the first big winner of Twenty One who gets replaced by a fresh face. Stempel was in no way innocent, as he knew the show was fixed and complied in order to win huge sums of money. Still, it isn't fair that they gave him the shaft simply because he didn't appeal to fans. His replacement was Charles Van Doren, a literary genius from a wealthy family who became a national celebrity and was played magnificently by Ralph Fiennes. Van Doren isn't innocent either, for the same reasons as Stempel. The film tries to make you feel bad for him, but I simply didn't. The lawyer responsible for uncovering the scandal was Dick Goodwin, played by Rob Morrow. While he didn't quite steal the show, he certainly held his own among some heavy hitters and became someone to root for among a sea of frauds.
I think Quiz Show is an eye-opening inside look at how enormous corporations like NBC can escape a national embarrassment virtually unscathed. It's nothing short of disgusting and the final act of this film will really piss you off, provided you've been paying attention. This film is loaded with great performances, a well-written script, and a true story that you have to see to believe.
The 1950’s television scandals are a part of history that will surely be repeated, if it already hasn’t been. Robert Redford decided to capture the most interesting subplot in the decade of quiz show scandals with one of his many directorial achievements, Quiz Show. The film received four Oscar nominations and is still standing the test of time, thanks to memorable performances by Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Paul Scofield.
New York City is already a fast paced, jungle for the hungry and sometimes greedy. That’s our setting in this particular story that contains intellectuals who forget to use logic when it comes to dignity and money. The television realm seemed to have an endless pit of money that everyone wanted to jump into. Even people who are high class citizens of our country. Fiennes and Turturro depict the two main contestants on Twenty One, Charles Van Doren and Herbie Stempel. Herbie is an unlovable geek who has been the reigning champ as our film begins, with the sharper and more attractive professor of Columbia, Van Doren, taking the reins throughout the film with much controversy. Immediately, we see deceit and unjust actions take place as the producers try and a find a way for Twenty One to be as successful as possible. It is clear that Van Doren is who the people want, so he becomes their poster boy, causing the ratings to soar through the clouds. We have LeBron to watch on TV, but in the 50’s, Charles was a god, just as LeBron is now.
Dick Goodwin, who wrote the book that inspires the film, serves as special counsel to the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee during the scandals. Morrow portrays Dick in heroic way, being the only main character we can confidently root for. He is the guy who wants to actually answer the questions we have, even though the audience has more information than he does. His Harvard education becomes very relevant as he investigates and talks to folks who use big words. Dick is sent from DC to NY, so that he can figure out what is going on with the television networks. No time is wasted as he spends extended periods of time prying at Van Doren, and then taking in all the information that Stempel slowly becomes obsessed with. A surprising camaraderie forms between Dick and Charles as they both can comfortably talk about their talent and brains for hours, knowing that the other one understands. Dick is brought in close by Charles and the Van Doren family as a whole while he is in New York. There’s some kind of saying about keeping your friends close and enemies closer.
The film catches a very nice stride early and doesn’t lift up, causing the vocabulary that these nerds use as weapons. The scenes of intellectual pride have the same weight any sword fight scene has. If you don’t want to hear knowledgeable banter then rest easy, because Ralph Fiennes is worth the watch, as he slithers away from situations until he finally has to face the music.