Quiz Show

Growing up, movies and television were my best friend. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and watch “Dark Shadows,” and found myself glued to the television during school breaks watching game shows. I had favorites, but I just enjoyed watching people win.

quizshowWhen I got a satellite dish, I made sure my subscription included the Game Show network. When ever I feel blue, I turn on the Game Show network and watch old favorites like “Family Feud” and “The Match Game.” America’s fascination with game shows goes back to radio. With the popularity of television, game shows became big business. America used television and game shows to get through some rough times, including several wars.

People who appeared on game shows were instant celebrities, if only in their own neighborhood. Who could resist watching ordinary people become instant celebrities. As their popularity grew, so did the realization that game shows were big money, and not just for the contestants. Game Shows were inexpensive to produce, and yet the dividends were extravagant.

Television executives knew that game shows were still entertainment, and did what was necessary to insure ratings, even cheating. Oh my gosh! Cheating? Well, there was this one incident. It was on a television show called “Twenty-One.” Battling “I Love Lucy” for ratings, the producers behind “Twenty-One” knew that for their show to succeed, America had to embrace the winner. When one knowledgeable contestant was asked to take a dive in order to accommodate the new kid on the block, his outrage led to the downfall of “Twenty-One” and game shows in general. Those events are exquisitely captured in director Robert Redford’s excellent “Quiz Show.” Brilliantly written by Paul Attanasio, “Quiz Show” examines that dark period in time when one man managed to bring down an industry.

His name was Herbert Stempel, a smart but annoying man who won for weeks on “Twenty-One” until the producers decided that America was tired of him. When he is asked to take a dive on a question that he knows, he resists, but with the offer of more work down the line, agrees. He loses to college instructor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a handsome man whose family lineage is impressive to say the least.

Attanasio does an excellent job of laying the groundwork and providing the characters with intelligent things to say. There is a lot more at work in his screenplay than just an expose on crooked game shows. He deftly addresses issues of cultural division without standing on a soapbox. Redford does a splendid job of creating time and place, and gets dynamic performances from his cast. As Stempel, John Turturro makes it easy for us to under why he was asked to step aside to accommodate the Gentile Van Doren. His annoyance is perfectly demonstrated during a dinner sequence where he challenges the show’s producer not to let him go.

Fiennes is exceptional as Van Doren, a man caught between his morals and a paycheck that more than rivals his meager teacher salary. You don’t blame Van Doren for accepting the answers, you blame the producers for making him an offer he can’t refuse. The film is rich with supporting characters, including Rob Murrow as a Washington investigator who smells a rat, and Paul Scofield as Van Doren’s father, a noted poet and professor. Mira Sorvino has some nice moments as Morrow’s wife, while David Paymer nails the role of the show’s producer. “Quiz Show” is complex and rich, filled with memorable dialogue and engaging performances. Not once do you feel like you’re watching a movie. Instead, you feel like you’re spending time with these characters, and actually become invested in their lives and dates.


VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Somewhat hazy 1.85:1 widescreen digital transfer. Even though the transfer replicates director of cinematography Michael Ballhaus’ beautiful images with responsibility, there is a lack of depth and attention to detail that runs throughout. Vertical lines (especially window blinds) are a real nightmare. The colors are warm with decent saturation, while blacks hold up under scrutiny. The original negative is clean, allowing for pure whites and shadows. Flesh tones are nicely rendered, especially under warm lights. Good but not excellent.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Bountiful Dolby Surround soundtrack really gets your attention. Strong dialogue mix and realistic ambient noise add to the excitement. Musical cues are clean, with decent basses and strong middle and high ends. Stereo effects are okay but over done. The DVD also features a French language track.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The film’s original trailer and some Reel Recommendations.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

I really admired this film, and included it on my Top Ten List in 1994. I just wish the digital transfer were a little sharper.

VITALS: $29.98/Rated PG-13/133 Minutes/Color/30 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#17639




HMO: Hollywood Pictures Home Video

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