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Quiz Show

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Quiz Show

Starring: John Turturro, Rob Morrow
Director: Robert Redford
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 133 Minutes
Release Date: September 1994
Genre: Drama

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

QUIZ SHOW is about a time in the late 50s that I remember from my childhood. 21 was one of the most popular TV shows on then. Everybody watched it including this twelve-year-old kid named Steve Rhodes who was a star in math but a third stringer as a football player.

The 50s were a time when intellectuals were out and athletes were in. Friday night boxing was all the rage as was any live televised sport. People even took wrestling serious back then. Somehow, possibly because of the money, people went gaga over quiz shows. In QUIZ SHOW, the brightest, well at least those with the best memories, were the heroes. People structured their life so that they could be home in time to see if Charles Van Doren, who was an intellectual with a jet setter beauty, could win again. Home video recorders were not even a dream then.

The movie about this time is directed and produced by Robert Redford. His movie focuses on the scandal behind 21. The producers of this show figured out how they could manipulate the vast television audience by giving answers to the contestants they wanted to win and forcing their contestants to take a dive when their ratings began to plateau.

I remember this era, and I have read about it so I can say that the movie is a fairly accurate story with a couple of key exceptions I will cover later. What makes this movie work is the history, the reenactment of the old quiz shows, and the excellent performance of Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren. Fiennes is a brilliant actor whose best work was as the evil Nazi concentration camp leader in SCHINDLER'S LIST. His cold bloodedness with no remorse in that movie was chilling in the extreme. In QUIZ SHOW he plays a sweet, lovable guy who manages to sign a pact with the devil and yet not seem to realize what he has done.

Unfortunately, there is a lot about the show that does not work. The show runs 2:10 but feels like 3 hours. Many long scenes are unnecessary and should have been cut entirely. The script is too mushy. It paints everyone in varying shades of an evil gray. Anyone having anything to do with business - TV or sponsor (Geritol), is especially evil. The only true good guys are the government, and they are like white knights trying to show everyone how evil the businesses are but the contestants really were not that much at fault - they were duped. The purest of the pure are the congressional staffers. Ah, what a contrast with today.

Now, the producers of 21 were bad guys. The problem with the show is that you think that the network and the sponsor was in on it too. If you stay to see all of the credits you will learn that it was never proven that either had anything to do with the scandal. They word it in such a way that you are supposed to believe that they actually did and hence were guilty until proven innocent.

About the network's guilt I know nothing, but about the head of Geritol (played by Martin Scorsese) I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. It claimed that no proof of any kind was ever presented but that the congressional hearings forever damaged this man, and he spend the rest of his entire life trying unsuccessfully to get his reputation back.

Maybe I am just a softie, but I could forgive Redford his playing loose with the facts for no good reason (the contestants and the producers of 21 provided enough bad guys to go around) if he had just made a better movie. It needed more energy, crisper editing, and a reworked script.

In the end, I have to give the film a mild thumbs up as it is an interesting story and the performance by Fiennes is worth seeing. I give the show ** 1/2. It is correctly rated PG-13 for a little mildly bad language and because it is a show that would not interest anyone under 13. I was disappointed by this show since I thought it would be much better and because my number 2 show on my top ten list of best movies of all of the 1980s was ORDINARY PEOPLE also directed by Robert Redford. Oh well, ...

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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