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
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
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
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