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USA 1994
Directed by
Robert Redford
133 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Quiz Show

It’s 1958 and the television quiz show 'Twenty-One' is a big hit. The reigning champ is the snaggled-toothed, bespectacled and awkward Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) but when the show’s sponsor (Martin Scorsese)  demands someone more appealing, the producers replace him with the handsome and charming Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). Van Doren becomes a national celebrity but the jealous Stempel tries to expose the behind-the-scenes rigging of the show. His words fall on barren ground until ambitious Congressional investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) gets interested and eventually a national scandal erupts.

This true life story from the early days of television impresses with its top drawer craftsmanship in all departments. From the intelligent script by Paul Attanasio which was based on 'Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties' by Richard N.Goodwin to Redford’s smooth direction, from the superb production design to the persuasive performances by Fiennes, Turturro and supporting cast, Quiz Show ticks all the boxes, albeit perhaps a little too tidily for some tastes.

In what is both in itself a compelling story and at the same time a telling illustration of corporate cupidity, Van Doren, an intelligent and cultivated academic who feels overshadowed by his brilliant father (Paul Scofield) slips into the moral slough of the entertainment industry and then has no problem living the lie. Dramatically speaking this unfolds a little too neatly and some more conflict in Fiennes' characterisation would have added to the film but Redford is no warts-and-all director, characteristically delivering tastefully packaged films. Nevertheless John Turturro gives a stand-out performance as Stempel, a man with a very personal sense of moral rectitude. The rest of the cast is also strong including Scofield and Mira Sorvino in her first mainstream film.

Although quiz shows don’t have the popularity that they once had Redford has delivered an engaging portrait of a bygone era and an appealing story of personal folly, a combination which makes it one of his best films.




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