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  • jlacerra24 April 2004
    As a twelve year old growing up in Brooklyn, I did not even know the name of the show I was watching every week; to me it was just a vehicle to see if hero Charles Van Doren could hang in. He was handsome, articulate, witty, and all the girls thought him incredibly attractive (although their pre-teen minds did not yet understand sexuality). Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood as I did, Herb Stempel did not come off so nerdy as he looks now in retrospect. When it came out that everyone had cheated, us kids felt not only betrayed, but sleazily cheated personally. The girls felt somehow violated!

    Here Redford turns in an understated masterpiece. He sets the stage and the standard, and gets fantastic performances from his actors:

    John Turturro as Stempel is excellent, but a fine job by Johann Carlo as his principled wife, which may be overlooked in such company, is the rock upon which his family can really rely.

    Ralph Fiennes, as the hapless Charles Van Doren, manages to get across his character's dilemma: a mere achiever in a family of ultra-achievers. In any other family he'd have been prime, as a Van Doren he would always be an also-ran.

    Many have pointed out the great job of Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, Charles' father. He is the epitome of the WASP-intellectual padrone. And he has our sympathy when his son so sorely disappoints him and disgraces the family.

    David Paymer is excellent and believable as Enright, the unsavory producer. He makes it almost seem disloyal not to cheat!

    Bit parts are all little plums: Martin Scorsese as Martin Rittenhouse, the Geritol exec, smugly contemptuous of the public and the government. George Martin as the network president, clearly Jewish, and just as clearly a "Teflon Don" in his own world.

    The scenes at the Van Doren estate are designed to convey investigator Goodwin's (Rob Morrow) culture shock and outsider status, and they represent the academic WASP world of the time accurately and wonderfully.

    All in all, a great movie.
  • I was growing up during the Charles Van Doren scandal, and I remember his face on the front page of the paper and my mother crying. When I asked her what happened, she said, "He told a lie." He told a whole bunch of them, in fact, and was part of the quiz show scandal of the '50s, which Quiz Show so beautifully dramatizes. Robert Redford does a fantastic job of recreating the atmosphere in perfect detail, as well as the fascinating story of the '50s version of reality TV, the quiz shows, going awry.

    Paul Scofield is absolutely mind-boggling as Van Doren Sr., and Ralph Fiennes is wonderful, handsome, and charismatic as Charles Van Doren. The rest of the cast is marvelous - John Turturro, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Rob Morrow.

    Van Doren was a dream contestant - good-looking, educated, with a beautiful speaking voice - and captivated the country with his intelligence. Unfortunately, it wasn't reality at all, just fantasy. But, as Van Doren says while verbally sparring with his dad, "It was mine own." It sure was, and he went into oblivion because of it.
  • "Quiz Show" is the type of movie that invites viewers to ask themselves how they would act under similar circumstances. If you were a contestant on a TV game show and the producers offered you a load of money to do a fixed show where you're given the answers in advance, would you do it? Or would you turn your back on the producers and walk away? In this film, Charles Van Doren does not walk away, but he does hesitate. As played by Ralph Fiennes, he's a bright, likable fellow who seems like a good man despite his willing participation in a fraud.

    The film is smartly written, tightly plotted, and populated by interesting characters. It is also entertaining. It unfolds like a great detective story, except that no murder has taken place. There isn't even any crime. As shocking as it may seem, there were no laws against rigging a quiz show back in the 1950s, because no lawmaker had considered that such a thing would ever happen. When the scandal came to light, those working behind the scenes who engineered the fraud managed to survive with their careers intact, and the people who suffered the harshest consequences were the contestants, who were simply pawns. That says something about the distortions of television culture, but this theme, among others, is nicely understated in the film.

    Director Robert Redford has a gift for finding the drama in seemingly mundane topics, but not in a contrived or manipulative fashion. The '50s quiz show scandal is the sort of topic that could easily have made for a preachy and artificial TV movie. It's a great credit to Redford's film that it doesn't contain any long moralizing speeches. Though the movie has many great quotes, the characters talk like real people, and the situations grow out of their personalities. We end up rooting for several characters at once. We want Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow), the lawyer sent to investigate the show, to succeed in uncovering the scandal. But we also feel for Van Doren, who almost comes off as a tragic hero. We even feel a little for the pathetic and unlikable Herb Stemple (John Turturro), the whistle-blower who's been bamboozled and humiliated by the producers.

    The movie works on the most basic level as simple drama, the high points being those scenes where Goodwin uncovers each new layer to the case. The first time I saw the film, I was put in mind of a detective story like "Colombo." There's no mystery, of course, since we know from the start who the perpetrators are, what they did and how they did it. But the labyrinth of corruption that Goodwin must probe is fascinating to behold.

    Goodwin naively assumes he's practically taking down the network (the movie hints that the scandal goes to the very top) even though no laws were broken. The situation has the feel of a conspiracy, the people talking in euphemisms like they were mob bosses or something ("For seventy grand you can afford to be humiliated"). The contestants themselves are no dummies: they are smart, knowledgeable people who could very well have been used honestly on a trivia show. The producers simply wanted to control the responses to make the show more dramatic. What made this unethical was the amount of deception it required. It's one thing to have entertainment that everyone knows is fake (e.g., pro-wrestling), it's quite another to pass off something phony as something real. Of course now I'm getting preachy, something I praised the movie for not doing. But that's exactly my point. In a lesser movie, there would have been characters explaining the distinction. Here, it's left to us to assess the situation. That's the best kind of movie, the kind that invites further discussion.

    Above all, the movie is about integrity and what defines it. Goodwin (in a classic reversal of our culture's typical view of lawyers) is the boy scout in the story, who says at one point that he would never have participated in the fraud if he were in Van Doren's shoes, and we believe him. But a large part of the film involves his relationship with Van Doren, a man he likes and doesn't want to hurt. His desire to protect Van Doren (but not Stemple) from ruin while bringing down the true perpetrators of the scandal leads to one of the movie's most memorable lines, when Goodwin's wife calls Goodwin "the Uncle Tom of the Jews," because he's sticking up for a corrupt Gentile. We respect Goodwin and admire his reluctance to hurt Van Doren, but we, too, wonder whether he's handling the case with the proper objectivity.

    The movie has some interesting subtexts dealing with the anti-Semitism coming from Jewish producers themselves. In one scene, producers Dan Enright and Albert Freedman basically explain to Van Doren, in so many words, that Stemple is too Jewish for the show. This is a phenomenon I've rarely seen dealt with in the movies, possibly because there aren't too many films depicting the history of television.

    The film is often criticized for departing significantly from the facts of the case. For example, the real Goodwin actually played a minimal role in exposing the scandal. I can understand why those involved in the case may have resented these inaccuracies. But filmmakers do have dramatic license. Probably this film should have changed the names of the characters from their real-life counterparts, to reinforce the fact that it's not an exact account of what happened. The purpose of movies isn't to duplicate real life, but to reflect on real life, to gain fresh insight, and "Quiz Show" achieves that purpose with dignity and style.
  • The other day when I was renting movies I passed this one called Quiz Show, never heard of it, wasn't too sure if it would be good or not, so I figured I would just wait and check it out on IMDb. When I saw the rating I was very impressed, not to mention how this was nominated for best picture of '94, considering it was up against: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption, it didn't really stand a chance. But I rented this movie and I'm convinced that 1994 had to be one of the best years for films. Quiz Show is an incredibly impressive film by Robert Redford, which I didn't even realize that this guy could direct! The story is just a perfect one for any type of a debate conversation on what is right and what is wrong.

    21 is a popular TV quiz show in the 50's where they ask very hard questions and the guests win lots of money, Herb Stempel has been the reigning champion for weeks. But he's not exactly what you would call the TV hunk, he's got the "radio face". Charles Van Doren is a huge fan of quiz shows, so he auditions, and when the executives see him, they go crazy over him, he's handsome, he's smart, he's charismatic, and his family is famous. They tell Herb to "dive down" and get a wrong answer so that Charles can take over as the champion. Everything seems to go smoothly, that is until Harvard grad government agent Dick Goodwin is convinced that there's something wrong. He is determined to prove that the show is rigged and that 21 is ripping of America's intellects.

    Quiz Show is a great film, the acting, the picture, the editing, everything about this film is pretty much flawless. I couldn't believe that this film is not anywhere near the top 250, I don't see any problems with the film. But I know every film has a hater or two. But for me the film, acting wise, the film went to Ralph Fiennes, he did an incredible performance and was so touching during his statement to the jury. I just would highly recommend this film to anyone, this is a great film and Robert Redford did a terrific job.

    10/10
  • It would be pretty surprising if Quiz Show, Robert Redford's film about the 1950's quiz show scandals was anything short of excellent. The principal actors give phenomenal performances: Fiennes' Van Doren is usually unflappable and cold, but manages to allow vulnerability to surface at times, and Turturro's Stempel is a study in almost sociopathic and manic behavior. What allows both actors to transcend mere greatness is their ability to make the viewer both admire and detest their characters with something as subtle as a glance or body language. Morrow's character of the `whistle-blower' is there as the moral fiber; the outsider who looks upon the situation both with objectivity and as the devil's advocate.

    Redford's direction is rich and well-paced. There were not any slow moments in the film, and he did not have to adhere to rapid-fire editing to achieve the momentum of the film. Perhaps the subject matter is a factor, but I have found that with the exception of `Ordinary People', the films I have seen under Redford's direction have been good in a technical respect but lean toward the maudlin. With Quiz Show, he does what should be done when telling a true story – he does not resort to preaching, rather he directs with an objectivity that allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions.

    Quiz Show is an excellent film that I highly recommend, especially to see the razor-sharp performances of Fiennes and Turturro.

    --Shelly
  • pollocka11 November 2002
    I watched this film for about the fifth time last night. I first saw it a couple of years ago when my mum brought it home, she'd picked it out of the bargain bin at the supermarket, and what a bargain!

    It is a superb tale, I notice some have said 'who cares it was just a dumb quiz show', well that is hardly the point, many films are made where, what was seemingly the subject is actually just a background for the real story to be told.

    Quiz Show is a brilliantly told morality tale, but that is not to say it preaches. It can get away with not preaching because the consequences of their actions didn't harm anyone. It doesn't say, 'if you do something wrong you will be punished'. It says 'If you do something wrong, can you live with yourself'. "It's the getting away with it I couldn't stand" Charlie says at one point.

    A classical tragedy of a man with the world at his fingertips who throws it all away at his own volition. As a classical Shakespearean actor Fiennes is perfect for the role.

    A wonderful intelligent and literate script, the pieces between Charlie and his father in the Athanaeum and at the picnic are wonderful.

    Subtle music and stylish presentation are the icing on the cake.
  • Robert Redford's brilliant direction and a quartet of expert performances make QUIZ SHOW a highly interesting, thought-provoking experience. Unfortunately, the end of TV innocence in the '50s brought us other game shows in recent years and real life survivor series that are guilty of shortcomings just as egregious in other ways but not to be discussed here. Manners and morals began a fast decline in the late '50s and only got worse with each decade, in my opinion.

    The real-life story of Professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of a famous scholar, Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) is told in a lively and detailed way with many sights and sounds of the '50s making the atmosphere look very authentic. When the less than charming winner of a TV show, Herb Stempel (John Turturro) is dumped in favor of the more charismatic Charles Van Doren, the story goes swiftly through a series of expertly written scenes in which all of the behind-the-scenes goings on are revealed and characterizations are sharply defined. In truth, the ratings game between Van Doren and Herb Stempel went on for many weeks before a showdown was reached.

    An especially touching scene shows Charles wanting to reveal to his father the truth about his upcoming appearance before an investigative committee--relaxing as the two have an informal midnight snack in the kitchen, but unable to tell his father (played to perfection by Paul Scofield) who is a symbol of unwavering integrity. In fact, Scofield is so good in his supporting role that it's a pity the script didn't expand his role to give him more screen time.

    John Turturro as Herb Stempel has the unfortunate task of appearing to be an obnoxious nerd, whose only redeeming moment comes at the end of the film when he realizes how destroyed Charles Van Doren is by the revelations. He never tries to make the character anything less than the boorish, self-absorbed fool he is and does an excellent job. Rob Morrow is sometimes less than convincing as the tenacious investigator.

    Despite its lengthy running time, it all moves along at a brisk pace under Robert Redford's outstanding direction. Well worth your time, although I can't say television has raised the bar very much since its fall from grace, especially with regard to daytime talk or game shows. Are audiences any wiser today? Maybe only Regis Philbin knows...
  • Spleen17 October 1999
    Although `Quiz Show' is entirely concerned with morality and the nature of moral choices, I can't think of a single moment when it isn't obvious whether or not a character is doing the right thing. There are no moral dilemmas whatever. And a good thing too - thorny ethical issues would only turn it into an episode of `Star Trek'. If you think a film needs to be confused about right and wrong in order to be interesting, watch `Quiz Show' and realise your error.

    Here's most of the ethics in a nutshell: the star contestants of a popular quiz show are cheating, with the connivance of the producers, the sponsor, and the network. That they shouldn't be cheating is never in dispute. The interesting questions are: Why are they cheating? and, What is it like for them, and how do they maintain dignity, when they're found out? Of course, in an intelligent character study like this there are plenty of other questions. I won't ruin your pleasure by giving away any of the answers. The best scenes, probably, are the ones in which a character must admit to someone or some group of people that he has cheated. All these scenes are very good and each is handled in a different way. But they're just cherries in a rich fruitcake. `Quiz Show' is one of my personal favourites. It was nominated for Best Picture of 1994 - an unusually fertile year - although the award went instead to some big dumb propaganda piece.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A harsh look at a scandal that hit the TV industry while it was relatively still in its infancy, QUIZ SHOW tells the parallel stories of Herbie Stempel, Charles Van Doren, and Dick Goodwin, three people caught in a triangle of hypocrisy and appearances from opposite sides of the coin. The feeding of the right answers to both Stempel and Van Doren on the game show "21" did not bring the downfall to its paternal network, but made those who learned of this examine the prejudices concerning who should be on top and who should not and sadly did not exonerate those who were behind the scandal. That Stempel, one of 21's first "victims", Jewish, should not be of what would be considered a man of "privileged" upbringing but Van Doren, handsome, WASP-ish, successful -- a university professor -- should just hits harder even today to the kind of people network television prefers. When we see that Ken Jennings, a milquetoast white man, is allowed to make so much money on "Jeapoardy", we question the credibility of his win, and it extends even beyond game shows: "ethnic" groups are still looking for their audience on a television mainly "white" in nature, and only a smattering of shows have included all racial groups in ensemble shows that have managed, through some shrewd writing and marketing, to survive.
  • The ratings of 1950's quiz show `21' are in freefall due to the dominance of dorky Jew Herbie Stempel. The sponsors and network owners put pressure o the producers to replace him. When WASP Charles Van Doren comes to audition for another show they offer to ask him the questions that he already answered at the practice. Herbie is told to take a dive and Van Doren becomes an audience draw. However when Herbie starts making noise about a fix, a congress employee, Dick Goodwin, decides to go after the network.

    This is a glossy, professional piece of work that sadly was never as huge as hit as it deserved to be (probably not enough explosions for the US audience). The story is based on a true story that happened in the 50's and it's used here partly as a bit of history but also as a look at television in terms of it's most basic desire to sell and entertain at any costs – if that means fixing shows or getting the `right' ethnic groups on screen then s be it. It is effective on that level because it's hard to imagine anything has changed since 1950. The actual human drama comes between Van Doren and Stempel – the film makes them both real people, neither good nor bad but having a bit of both.

    Turturro is the best thing in this film. His Herbie has so many levels which he must touch throughout and he does them all well – whether it's humour, pride, anger or realisation. Fiennes is good but at times I did find it hard to be sympathetic with a WASP born into a lofty family who gets more given to him. That said Fiennes did him well. Morrow was a strange choice – famous at the time for Northern Exposure, he does a weird performance here – almost doing an impression of what he thinks a tough Noo Yark investigator would be like. The supporting cast is filled out with quality so deep that even the extras are famous now! (Calista Flockhart turns up briefly). David Palmer and Hank Azaria are good as 21's producers, Christopher Mcdonald is good as the host – people like Griffin Dunne, Mira Sorvino, Timothy Busefield and Barry Levinson come and go, and Martin Scorsese has a wicked role as the money behind the scandal.

    It works on many levels – at it's most basic it is a true story of great interest, at best it lets you see how television works and how men with money can rarely be reached for any wrong doing. Working on so many levels this is a polished professional drama that involves from start to finish.
  • As much as I find myself to be the Political Antithesis of the 'Sundance Kid', Johnny Hooker, Waldo Pepper and Roy Hobbs; I do admire most of his work, both in front of and behind the Motion Picture Camera. Mr. Redford' talents match up to his 'Movie Star Good Looks' and as long his directorial jobs avoid heavy handed propaganda for the New American World Socialist Party (the Michael Moore/Jimmy Carter wing of the Democratic Party); such as that LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007) project of his.

    However, 'Sundance' has proved that he can really give us a top rate 'Film', as opposed to just another 'Movie'. Just one cursory glance up and down his list of Directorial Credits, we find ORDINARY PEOPLE (Directorial Debut, 1980), A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992), THE LEGEND OF BEGGAR VANCE (2000) and today's victim, QUIZ SHOW (1994).

    The story here, in this film with the most generic sounding of titles, is that of the Television's Quiz Shows' rigging scandal of the 1950's. Accusations of TV producers' providing contestants with answers to questions that would later be asked as a part of a tensely fought on-air "contest." Though there had been some early rumblings about "fix" by disgruntled Ex-Champion on TWENTY ONE, Herb Stempl, no one seemed to give any credence to such talk until there was an angry contestant on the Daytime Quiz Show, DOTTO, got angered about being double crossed. This started small, but soon now-balled into an avalanche; engulfing not only DOTTO'S and its fellow daytime 'Minor League' programs, but it also reached its tentacles up to Primetime and to THE $64,000.00 QUESTION (CBS)*, THE $64,000.00 CHALLENGE (also CBS ), but also the Jack Barry-Dan Enright production of TWENTY ONE (NBC).

    Having been an eyewitness of 10 years of age, I can remember well how this series made its debut, doubling the number of "Isolation Booths" over THE $64,000.00 QUESTION'S one (1); they added the element of competition between two (2) contestants to the suspense of one contestant's sweating it out, racking his own brain in pursuit the answers. Its first few weeks on TWENTY ONE, we saw a parade of moustaches, scholarly looking spectacles and goatees; all decked out double-breasted and tweed suits. Locked in intellectual jousting, fighting to the ultimate gray matter finish, no one seemed to catch-on with the public, personality-wise . With none of these Albert Einstein and Dr. Zarkov look-alikes getting any sort of substantial advantage toward holding that coveted "21 Championship Belt", Emcee Jack Barry abruptly stopped and removed the 2 competitors; promising to bring them back at a future date. (A surefire "Kiss of Death", if you've ever heard one!) Enter the self-taught, super nerd, Herb Stempel (John Turturro).

    Herb racked up an impressive string of victories over the period of several weeks, managing to eek out wins over whoever came his way. The show was gaining a following, but the seemingly colorless Mr. Stemple was just not getting over with the public. His knowledge was admirable, of course; but lacking the charisma needed in the TV Business. TWENTY ONE needed a little tweaking to get it up to the level of a Star of the First Magnitude.

    Bring on Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes).

    Hailing from NYC, as was reigning Champion Stempel, he and Professor Charles were nothing alike otherwise. Herb was a Jew, educated in NYC's Schools and at the City College of New York, employed as some sort of clerical job. On the other hand, the WASP, Van Doren, was the son of a long tenured Literary Professor at the Ivy League, Columbia University. Charles qualified as an aristocrat, a blue blooded upper crust socialite. The Van Dorens no doubt, did not cross the Atlantic on board the Mayflower, but they surely were there when the trinkets were traded for Manhattan Island.

    Furthermore, the youthful, handsome and very eligible Charles proved to have a wide appeal to men and even wider sex appeal to the lovely, young ladies. Either way, Van Doren's entry into the fray created a super charged interest in all things academic. His face appeared everywhere, even on the cover of Time Magazine. ** So the nation was now witness a series of long, and drawn-out matches, all of which led them to ties, no decisions and great serialized TV fun and excitement. The "Nervous Nerd" Stempel vs. "Prof" Van Doren was truly a 15 Round Bout, winner take all.

    And finally the day, or rather, the evening came along when, at last the Van Doren-Stempel feud would be decided with Herb's answering "ON THE WATERFRONT", instead of the correct "MARTY". *** Mr. Van Doren began a long run in the King's Chair; one in which he lost a lot of weight and began looking frail and worn; until he also lost to whoever. Then it became readily apparent that a real problem existed and a Congressional Sub-Committee had convened with the purpose of getting to the bottom of things, PDQ.

    Yes, Mr. Redford, we heartily concur that this was a great production of a story that had to be told. Thanks Bob and by the way, who was this Mamie? (Mamie Van Doren, not Mamie Eisenhower, Schultz!)

    NOTE: * On the Radio, during its Golden Era, there had been a program titled "THE $64 QUESTION; hence…….

    NOTE: ** Perhaps in an indirect way, this infatuation with book learnin' was responsible for CBS TV's COLLEGE BOWL and the Local Market Franchised IT'S ACADEMIC.

    NOTE: *** The Question that Herb Stempel was forced to blow was "What was the Movie that won the 1955 Oscar for Best Picture?"
  • This film was not so much an indictment of TV. It is instead a commentary of how TV tends to make the worst out of people. TV is not the problem itself-but those who run the networks, producers and sponsors. They bought into the philosophy that "The ends justifies the means" Just get the ratings-it doesn't matter how you do it-just do it. So, Enright and company decide to "Just Do it" and they did. And the result was the scandal that that this film documents.

    I always liked Robert Redford as an actor and director-even if I disagree with his politics-but here he made a masterful film about the unfortunate true story of game show scandals of the late 50's. It documents Richard Goodwin's(Rob Morrow in a somewhat odd casting)investigation into allegations that shows were rigged. When he dug deeper and deeper he found that it was true.

    Once Goodwin appears on the scene, Enright and NBC executives go in "I got to protect myself" mode. By attempting to blame everyone else and pointing fingers at others. Truth is, the blame for this scandal can not be pinned on one person or another. The blame is extended to lots of people.

    Herb Stempel and Charles Van Doren are not exactly guys in white hats. They both agreed to accept answers to questions in advance-and when Stempel was asked to take a dive-he did what he was told. I agree they were victims-but only because they agreed to be a part of the scandal and they were later dumped when the fraud was discovered. Van Doren could have been firm and refused to get on the show by dishonest means. Herb Stempel should have done the same thing. He also should have screwed the producers and give the correct answer to the question "What picture won the academy award for best picture in 1955?" "MARTY" That is what his wife wanted him to do but in the end he chickened out.

    The question towards the end of the film "Who gets hurt" Redford does not answer the question-but leaves it up to viewers to decide. I think it hurts every one involved in the scandal. Though no one went to jail, they were punished by society itself. I think Van Doren had a lot more to lose because of his family's reputation. He lost his job at Columbia Unisverity and never taught again-he was disgraced for life. He went to work for the encyclopedia Britannica-but he remains in seclusion to this very day. Stempel was hurt too-but he didn't have a reputation to protect. He went to work for the New york city transit department. I come to the conclusion that whatever damage that was done was brought on by themselves.

    Has TV learned it's lesson? Not really. I do think the TV audience has learned. I think People now know that not everything in TV Land is what it appears to be. People also know just how corrupt TV can make people-even those with the best of intentions can become corrupt.

    Maybe it was a scandal that had to happen to wake people up to the realities of TV-and without proper discipline and checks and balances-just how corrupt TV can become.

    Great Film by a great actor and Director-Rent or buy it today!
  • In the late 1950's the TV game show "Twenty-One" was rigged. Popular contestants who could grab ratings were fed the questions and answers, and those who the network wanted off were told to take dives, all for the sake of keeping ratings up and selling Geritol. "Quiz Show" is the story of the scandal, and of the potential danger of the power of television. The movie focuses around two contestants in particular: Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), the reigning champ at the start of the movie who the network decides it wants to dump in favour of someone more glamorous who can pull in higher ratings: Charles Van Doran (Ralph Fiennes), a college literature professor. Stempel feels cheated of the glory that he feels was his due, while Van Doran is tormented by his desire to tell the truth, but also to cover up his involvement in the scandal.

    This is an interesting film that gives a fascinating look at the inside workings of the TV game show of that era. And it does paint a fascinating moral dilemma. As Dan Enright (David Paymer) - Twenty-One's producer - says to the Congressional committee that investigates the scandal, this was after all just a TV show; by definition a piece of entertainment. The sponsor sold its product, the network got ratings, the contestants made money and the public got entertained. Where was the victim? And yet it WAS dishonest. It's a fascinating issue, this whole concept of a victimless crime. And the ultimate irony was summed up by Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), the head Congressional investigator: the Committee got Van Doran, but what he wanted was to get television. In the end, as he says, television will probably end up getting them.

    All in all this was an interesting movie, although - strangely for a true story - I felt it lacked any sustained dramatic intensity. Remembering Jack Barry from the 1970's as host of the game show "The Joker's Wild" (he was also the host of "Twenty-One"), I was very impressed by Christopher McDonald's portrayal of him. Although the role wasn't really that central to the movie, McDonald had Barry down pat, and I felt as if it really were Jack Barry I was watching.

    All in all, this is a very good movie. I wouldn't run out and buy it, but it's certainly worth a rental.

    7/10
  • Very good movie - pretty well written - very well acted by ALL with the glaring exception of Rob Morrow! His fake accent was on again, off again trying to be from Brookline, Massachusetts was sooooo bad, we all cringed everytime he spoke. We even started a game to see who could guess right whether he'd be using the awful accent or not the next time he spoke. Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro stole the show and helped to hide the horror that was Morrow! Please someone, make sure Rob is never in a film again!

    Otherwise, this film is highly recommended for its drama and acting.
  • There isn't much to the plot of Quiz Show. A government agent goes on a quest to prove that executives of the TV quiz show "Twenty-One" fed their contestants the answers (which, of course, they did). Thus chaos insues as this affects the lives of many people.

    This otherwise average movie is made great by unforgettable performances by John Turturro as the nerdy quiz show contestant Herbie Stempel and by Rob Morrow as the congressional oversight commitee worker Dick Goodwinn. David Paymer ads his character acting expertise as the man behind the scandal, while Ralph Fiennes does a fine job as Charles Van Doren, a respected educator who also cheats on the quiz show.

    This movie is very slow-paced, and may leave those who didn't live during the time period wondering what the big deal is; but if you want to see some great performances and a terrific script, see Quiz Show.
  • I love this movie it is one of my favorites. I know all of the words. Watch for subtle things that show characters. Like Charlie at first correcting them when they call him professor then latter not anymore. It is about integrity and how there is often a very fine line between what is right and what is wrong. Very smart!
  • Angeneer14 May 2000
    This film belongs up there with the best. Redford impressed me, creating a fantastic 50s atmosphere and giving an expert touch to each scene. All the actors excelled, but especially Ralph Fiennes, who once again proves himself to be pure gold. And what a job the casting team did! The story flows smoothly and the writer respects its initial material. In the end, the main message is passed just the way it had to. This is good cinema!
  • That TV-stations always have played a dubious role in the selection of their candidates isn't anything new. Only a couple of years ago there was a game show over here where some people weren't allowed because they weren't 'fit for the screen', a nice euphemism for saying that they were just too ugly. So that I saw this in this movie didn't surprise me. But giving the questions and answers to the contestants, that was really something new. But apparently it really happened, because this movie was based on actual events.

    In the late 1950's, an idealistic young lawyer who works for a Congressional subcommittee discovers that game shows aren't always played honestly. He focuses on two contestants on the show 21 and finds evidence for the fact that NBC and the sponsor have been screwing with the system. He interrogates Herbert Stempel, an ordinary working-class Jew from Queens and Charles Van Doren, a member of one of America's leading literary families, although he doesn't want to blame them for what has happened. He wants to nail the TV-station, but when the official hearings are held, the big guns escape and the true victims are the two contestants...

    If you only want one reason why you shouldn't miss this movie than I would definitely say that you should watch it for the acting. John Turturro is excellent as the Jewish, seemingly media crazy Stempel. But Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren, Rob Morrow as the lawyer,... all did a fine job as well. In fact, I find it very hard to say which actor did the best job, because I liked them all. Of course they would never have been able to give away such a performance if there hadn't been a well-written and very interesting script thanks to Paul Attanasio.

    Normally I don't say too much about the writer but this time I will make an exception to my own rule. The reason for that is because Paul Attanasio isn't just an ordinary screenwriter. He is also a movie critic and many of the critics always say that they know so much better what a script should look like, but this man actually proves it by writing a very good one himself. But a good script isn't of course all the work. Without the good direction of Robert Redford this wouldn't have worked either.

    All in all this is a very good movie that deserves to be seen for many different reasons. Some very good acting, a nice script, good direction... this movie has it all. The only problem that I had with it was that it was a bit of a slow starter. But don't let that be a reason not to watch it. It's a very fine movie and that's why I give it a score of at least 7.5/10.
  • rmax30482329 May 2002
    Warning: Spoilers
    Why do networks take a decent movie like this and lop off parts to fit it into a Procrustean bed? So they can include more commercials and make money. Why do contestants cheat on TV quiz shows? Well, yes, to make money too -- but more than that. They want adulation as well as new Caddies. At least Herb Stempel and Charles van Doren do -- brothers under two highly unsimilar-looking skins. This movie, at any rate, was chopped up by WGN, and a shame too. I thought networks had gotten pretty much out of the habit. What was lopped off consisted of small but highly revealing character touches, as is usually the case.

    What's missing from the print here, at least what came to my notice, are two relatively short scenes, whose importance as revealers of character I leave to you to judge. (1) Van Doren has been on the show and become a celebrity and has gotten used to being surrounded by envious and gushing young idolators. He arrives a bit early, before one of the campus buildings discharges its horde of students. And instead of alighting immediately from the cab, he pauses, leans down, and begins fiddling with his shoelace -- until the building opens and disgorges its young people, and then he gets out and is quickly engulfed as a bit of nutrient might be engulfed by a brainless amoeba. (2) Dick Goodwin visits the van Dorens and their guests (Bunny Wilson, etc.)at their Connecticut home, where everyone sits around the picnic table playing a kind of Shakespeare trivia contest. Dad starts a quote and challenges Charles to finish it and identify its source, that sort of thing. The erudite byplay of all concerned is enough to convince Goodwin that nobody from a community like this could be guilty of cheating on a stupid quiz show.

    The film rolls along with a lot of dash. Redford has a real facility in the use and placement of the camera. After several important exchanges he tends to linger on the face of one of the speakers, usually the one who has just learned something and whose mouth is left slightly open. The score is mostly of contemporary songs and intrudes a bit, seems loud.

    Charles van Doren may have envied and perhaps resented his father's fame (the movie hints that it was his desire to become as well-known as Mark that prompted him to cheat) but he's lucky to have had the father he did. Otherwise, master's in astrophysics and doctorate in literature or no, it's unlikely he would have been teaching at Columbia, even as an Instructor. (Talk about unfair advantage!)

    What is the movie's point of view? It's not completely spelled out, but it seems to be that it was okay for a nobody like Herb Stempel to cheat but not for someone with Charles van Doren's status. There's a certain reasonableness about this judgment. It's one thing for schmucks like you and me to steal towels from a fancy motel like the Tiki Waterbed Palace in Kansas City, but it means something entirely different if a celebrity does it. It's not part of our job descriptions to be models of rectitude, whereas we feel that famous professors and politicians ought to be. It seems an especially apt observation since in the case of quiz shows nobody gets hurt or deprived of anything. It's not a zero sum game. Under different circumstances, though, that's exactly what it is, and that's when cheating becomes not simply unethical but criminal. An armed robber is depriving another of something of value. Yet, our attitudes towards cheating must be very mixed indeed, to judge from the users' comments under "The Cheaters." If you cheat in an academic decathlon, you're depriving someone else of something of value, although it isn't a material good, but rather a reward whose value is symbolic.

    At the end of this story, no one has profited. Stempel, the loudmouth who has been gunning for the blond Aryan, finally brings him down, only to discover that he feels not satisfaction but pity for "the poor guy." Goodwin, who was after television, has torpedoed a comrade instead. The public loses its innocence. One or two network small fry are barbecued. And van Doren of course is ruined.

    The only winner is television itself, which will go on to bigger and better things like "World's Wildest Police Videos." Why bother watching someone on TV exercise their brains when you can watch people smash up their cars on a freeway? It's difficult to believe that there was actually a time in our history when people would crowd around their TV sets and watch a contestant struggle to answer a question about the King of Belgium.

    Maybe Ray Bradbury put it best: "The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little." Gimme "Survivor" any day, and pass the sugar frosted flakes.
  • The more I watch this movie, the more I see Robert Redford's (it's his movie) stamp on it for anything Liberal. It's unbelievable how much Left Wing propaganda is in this film.....yet I still like it and always find it very interesting. Perhaps because I vaguely remember this show on TV when I was a small kid and I vaguely remember the scandal attached to it. I certainly remember the name "Charles Van Doren."

    Ralph Fiennes plays the handsome, wealthy Van Doren, a man TV executives preferred to feature weekly on their quiz show rather than a nerd like "Herbie Stempel," played wonderfully by John Turturro. Every actor is superb in here, from crooked NBC executives to the Stempel and Van Doren families. Veteran actor Paul Scofield plays Van Doren's father "Mark" and is a standout in that role.

    The sad story, if this movie is true, is that the crooks basically got away with it, at least if you read the ending credits right after the movie ends. What injustice!

    By the way, some of the Liberal cheap shots were shots against Eisenhower, Nixon and even Jesus! Well, that's Hollywood, but those political digs weren't necessary.
  • Herb Stempel saw "Marty" three times but is forced to give an incorrect answer on "21", thereby allowing whiz-kid-in-the-making Charles Van Doren to take over as the champion of the show. Herb's time in the sun is over but naturally he is trying to hang on to the fame, respect and money as long as he can. Van Doren is then tempted by the same things but due to the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the show, is at odds with his conscience.

    This movie is about several things and they all meld into a great period piece which should be seen by anyone interested in a bit of a history lesson combined with magnificient acting and clear, crisp cinematography.

    Redford hired fellow directors Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson for small parts, and got a great performance from everyone in the ensemble. Of special mention is a scene when Charles Van Doren and his father share a piece of chocolate cake. Paul Scofield and Ralph Fiennes are especially memorable as father and son. I can understand why actors are in awe of Scofield, he really has an amazing screen presence and deserved his Supporting nomination, though in all honesty it could have gone to at least four of five other men in the cast.
  • The fix is in and television are the fixers.

    Quiz Show is a thoroughly fascinating picture. Based on the true story of the rigging of the American hit game show "Twenty-One", and when America was captivated by the sharp and handsome intellectual faker Charles Van Doren over the schlubby savant Herb Stempel. Robert Redford meticulously brings back to life the art of the 1950's television game show. The glitz, the glamour, the product placements. Michael Ballhaus's cinematography takes your breath away, especially in the scene in which Stempel is forced to take the fall for Van Doren. Quite simply, one of the great scenes I've ever seen in film. Not to mention, John Turturro gives a performance for the ages.

    When the studio cameras are off and the congressional investigation begins, sadly, the film loses it's energy and edge and becomes a standard courtroom drama. But it must be stated, when this film gets you, you won't look away.
  • Those of you who remember The Joker is Wild or other similar quiz shows in the 1950s and 1960s on television will be transported back in time during the film Quiz Show. Those of you who are a little younger will think Quiz Show is a very fascinating and creative film. But to my fellow young'uns, let me tell you this: it's a true story.

    This piece of social commentary that's sometimes hard to watch but has fantastic acting, well framed shots, and great scene transitions is directed by none other than Robert Redford, the master of all elements mentioned. Quiz Show really is an important movie even though it's the poster-child for the "people are mean" mentality. It was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor at the Oscars, but John Turturro's and Ralph Fiennes's performances went unrecognized. But, it was released in 1994, the same year as Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption, so it didn't really stand a chance during awards season.

    In the film, Christopher McDonald is the host of the incredibly popular television quiz show "21". David Paymer and Hank Azaria are the show's producers. Martin Scorsese is an executive to the show's product sponsor. Everyone has a stake in the ratings, so when successful contestant John Turturro wanes in audience popularity, the network asks him to "take a dive". Will he do it? Will he tell the truth that the show is being rigged—and, more importantly, will anyone listen?

    While I kept asking myself, "Why wasn't this Timothy Hutton?" every time Rob Morrow was on the screen, the other leads gave excellent performances, most of them more likable in this movie than in any of their other movies I'd seen. I was kept on the edge of my seat the entire time, and each time a new character's plight was introduced, my heart completely transferred its sympathy to him, a testament to Paul Attanasio's fast-paced and well-defined script. Every character was made to be both likable and unlikable; this is the type of movie that will make you talk about it afterwards.
  • Wow, I sat glued to the screen for two hours without a break. That doesn't happen often, but the movie was that good, even with a one-note plot, and no action or romance. Yes, it did bring back 60-year old memories, sometimes fond, sometimes not. First a few words on historical context.

    In the summer of 1955, Revlon cosmetics experimented with a big money quiz show, not sure how it would work in prime network time. It was called the $64,000 Question. Up to that point, quiz shows, whether radio or new-fangled TV, offered only small amounts of prize money. So this was an unimaginable amount to offer. Not surprisingly, the show was an immediate hit, earning a permanent place on the CBS network. Viewers were clearly enthralled, especially when a delicate little Dr. Joyce Brothers showed off her expert knowledge of Boxing, of all things. Thus, it was possible for contestants to win not only big money, but become minor celebrities in the process, that is, if they caught the public's fancy.

    Of course, network programming being a commercial enterprise, imitators soon followed, the most successful (I think) being Twenty-One. Unlike $64,000, it had the distinction of two contestants competing against one another from inside the famous isolation booths. There viewers could watch them sweat as they pondered their answers. The format was also a come-on since most everyone had played the simple card game of being the first to reach 21 in point count. I think this format had the most built-in drama of any other TV quiz show, which by 1956, were at least several.

    The movie, of course, exposes the biggest scandal in quiz show history, which occurred in 1956-57 on Twenty-One. I was in high school at the time and never missed these shows. I think it's fair to say that practically all viewers believed the shows were honest—I know my family did. And that's even when quiz-whiz Herb Stemple missed probably the easiest question asked him, namely, who won Best Picture Oscar from just 2-years earlier. We all shouted "Marty" at the screen while he appeared terminally stumped, and we felt suddenly superior to this know-it-all. Likely, more discerning viewers suspected something fishy from that point on. But remember, this was the 1950's when, coming off a triumphal big war, most everyone still believed unquestioningly in authority. My friends and family certainly did. So when the rigged nature of Twenty-One was exposed in 1959, the public was generally shocked, especially as fair-haired boy Charles Van Doren was implicated. In fact, the big money quiz format was so discredited, it didn't revive for many decades.

    The movie itself amounts to a narrative triumph. Skillfully scripted, acted, and produced. The contrast between the nerdy-looking Stemple and the aristocratic Van Doren is striking. So, in retrospect, it's not surprising that producers Barry and Enright would see real ratings potential in a good-looking guy with a well-known family name. Fiennes's smirking Van Doren comes across as a rather slimy character once he's been compromised. Still, that scene of him amid the outdoor intellectual gathering is one a commoner like me can only imagine. As a result, I can understand how he could be seduced into establishing a reputation separate from his illustrious father (Scofield). Then there's the blue-collar Stemple harrumphing around his cold-water flat, having trusted the producers to come through for him after he took the humiliating dive. At times he's almost a comedic figure in his thrashing about.

    I guess my only reservation is with Morrow's casting as the bulldog investigator Jim Goodwin. To me, he doesn't project the kind of force necessary for untangling the shenanigans or tangling with stone walling network bigshots. But then, maybe he's intended to be a Peter Falk type Columbo with his disheveled appearance and mild manner. Be that as it may, the network honcho's are well cast and appropriately slippery as they seduce Stemple and Van Doren with prize money and promises of network jobs. Viewers can almost see their numbers-crunching brains in action. Tellingly, no woman is featured in the two hour runtime; and as an odd moment of curiosity, there's no indication whether Van Doren's successor Vivian Nearing was fed her answers or not.

    Anyway, the movie's fascinating in what it shows about the corruptive potency of TV ratings and commercial sponsors, a risky marriage that nevertheless endures. Thanks Robert Redford for reviving this sorry episode for generations later than mine.
  • This is a classy, intelligent and hugely entertaining drama about a seemingly forgotten part of television history. It's one of the smartest and most sophisticated films I've ever seen about the meaning of "truth" in a socially practical sense.

    Redford tells the (true) story about a fixed quiz show very thoughtfully. He passionately sympathizes with the side of truth, but he's also smart enough to not get out of his role as an observer either. He trusts the viewers to meditate about the subject themselves and to each individually draw conclusions about how meaningful and valuable "truth" really is in our current system.

    I've always been interested and fascinated about the "illusion of truth" and the practical side of lying. Everyone knows that being truthful and honest is the right thing to do as a human being, but paradoxically it also seems that, in our practical society, "making your own truths" can make you much more successful. It goes even further. When you're able to keep up a specific strong illusion of truth, you can even fabricate a situation where everyone involved seems to get an advantage out of it! It's only when the bubble actually bursts that most people start to realize that they prefer the truth over fabrications, even though it's sometimes hard to rationally explain why.

    I guess people are so angry when they are confronted with other people's lies, because lies can also produce very terrible consequences. It's impossible to truly draw a fine line between when it is acceptable and when it is not. A society would implode if there wasn't any "certainty of truth" anymore, because there would be no trust. A whole society can lose its credibility just as much as one individual can.

    You, yourself, can choose what kind of person you want to be.

    1) You can be one of the many people who tries to make a profit from that inevitable, immoral loophole in our society. The immorality of lying can be compensated by the generally good (personal) consequences those lies might carry with them.

    2) You can be a person who believes in the values of honesty and trust and who believes that those values are an inherent part of the moral foundations of a free society. Bending the truth to gain profits can have horrible, sometimes unforeseeable side effects, even if it's only in the long term.

    The most valuable thing this film may actually show, is that it is especially important to be aware of what both sides of the argument imply and ultimately may have in store.

    It's a very interesting film overall. It's well acted (the cast is fantastic), it's very solidly directed (I wonder if Redford got any tips from Scorsese, who played a small role in the film) and it has a very strong script about themes that will always be endlessly fascinating to me. Quiz Show managed to keep me entertained both dramatically and intellectually. I'm very much impressed and I strongly recommend seeing this film!
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