Quiz Show (1994)
Reviewed on 2013 March 14
This is Robert Redford’s telling of the game show scandal from the ’50s. It’s a time capsule as well as a great movie, and the script and acting make it 133 minutes of win.
Herbert Stempel (John Turturro) is an everyman from Queens with a prodigious intellect he struts weekly on the game show Twenty One. Unfortunately, as observed by one TV mogul’s arm candy, he also has “a face for radio”. This should not matter — and to normal people does not matter — especially for something like a game show designed to test your intellect. The guy knows his stuff, and millions of Americans tune in to watch him win on the game show Twenty One every week, not caring how pretty he is.
However, the entertainment industry was always fake as a three-dollar bill, even in the pre-Kardashian days, and the programming gnomes behind Twenty One decide to replace pushy, funny Herbert with pretty-boy professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). The men see dollar signs and starry-eyed female viewers if they can get Charles to beat Herbert, so they propose the only sure way to get Herbert off and Charlie in the spotlight: cheating. They ask Herbert to throw the game show by deliberately giving the wrong answers, and the rest is history.
Both Turturro and Fiennes were great in this, and Hank Azaria and David Paymer were fun to watch as network worms Albert Freedman and Dan Enright. The movie didn’t feel draggy despite the length. It’s a fascinating look into a what was — on the surface anyway — a simpler and more innocent time, and television was still quite young. Finally, it’s a change: we are so used to people chattering about the appearance of female celebrities and pundits that it’s kind of jarring to see a guy getting bounced from something for not being camera-friendly.
Three chocolate morsels and a steak.