Quiz Show

Quiz Show (1994)

“It’s not like we’re hardened criminals here. We’re in show business.”

Today’s movie is Quiz Show, the 1994 dramatization of the quiz show scandals of the 1950’s, directed by Robert Redford. I vaguely remember when the movie came out, and being somewhat interested in seeing it one day. Well, that day has finally arrived, and I’m not particularly upset that I waited.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie has a lot going for it, but I don’t now feel like I was missing something when I hadn’t seen it.

The film is told from the perspective of Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), an investigator for a congressional oversight committee. (The real Goodwin wrote the book the film is based on, and is credited as co-producer.) In the mid 1950’s quiz shows were the hottest programming on television, and Goodwin becomes suspicious that they might not be entirely on the level.

The two contestants the film focuses on are the nervous, odd-looking, Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) who is the reigning champion on NBC’s series 21, until he is instructed to “take a dive” and lose to his latest challenger, Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), an erudite, handsome, son of a prominent intellectual family. However, Stempel doesn’t feel that the show’s producers live up to their end of the bargain, and he begins making noise about the show having been fixed. It’s his complaints that bring Goodwin’s attention to the show.

The film does a fantastic job of creating an authentic atmosphere. The set and costume design, really do invoke the ’50s. The acting is superb, with Fiennes and Turturro seeming particularly well suited to their characters.

However, I found myself a little bored by the movie. I think that the reason for this is that the stakes are really so very low. The film is a “sit around and talk” kind of drama, where the weight of the characters and their circumstances should drive the film. Well, the characters are fantastic, and the performances first-rate. However, the circumstances were pretty airy. We’re talking about a lack of integrity in light entertainment here; it’s hardly a life-or-death situation.

So, while it was interesting to see Goodwin match wits with the various subjects of his investigation, or Van Doren contemplating whether to maintain his personal integrity, or accept the fame and money with being a star on television, I had a hard time convincing myself it mattered.

This really is a well-made movie, but I was never really convinced of why I should care. This said, while I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to track down this movie, I do still think it’s Worth Seeing.

[Quiz Show (1994) – Director: Robert Redford – Rated PG-13 for some strong language]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing