Hello! Today sees my first ever movie review for HowToWinGameShows.com, and I’ve chosen Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show. I hadn’t watched this in years, so I thought I’d revisit it, specifically to review for this site.
And it’s good. It’s really good.
As well as being a morality tale about the ethical choices we make, and their costs, Quiz Show is also a cat-and-mouse game, as government investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) tries to uncover all the corruption in the popular 1950s quiz show 21. And it seems there was a lot of it; producers giving the answers (and the questions) to contestants, contestants using that information to cheat, contestants deliberately losing games, the network turning a blind eye… the ripples of corruption don’t seem to end.
I’d forgotten all the twists and turns in the story. Its pace is leisurely (the running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes) but it’s never less than gripping. It’s a real examination of ethics and their consequences; the rewards – and more importantly, the costs – of the moral choices we all make. It’s not a happy, feelgood film. By the end, hardly anyone gets off scot-free; almost everyone has done the wrong thing and paid the price, or been caught in the fallout.
Watching the film, you can’t help ask yourself what you would do, if you were in the position of the two ‘successful’ contestants on 21; Herb Stempel (John Turturro) and Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes). We all think we know how we’d behave if we were in their shoes; we’d never be involved in any corruption, any cheating; but the temptations of fame, approval and the money – so much money! – can sometimes tend to muddy the ethical waters.
But the ill-gotten gains – and the secrets that hide them – have a way of eating away at the conscience of an honest man… And Charles Van Doren can’t live with them. As investigator Dick Goodwin says;
“I asked myself, ‘why would he do this?’ He knows I’ll come after him. Then it occurred to me. He knows I’ll come after him… It was the ‘getting-away-with-it’ part that he couldn’t live with.”
All the performances are great, but particularly moving is Paul Scofield’s performance as Mark Van Doren, Charlie’s father, and the patriarch of the Van Doren family of intellectuals. The classroom scene when Charlie (Ralph Fiennes) finally confesses his secret to his father is truly heartbreaking. Paul Scofield was nominated for both the Oscar and the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his work here.
The film looks gorgeous. Michael Ballhous’s cinematography recreates 1950s New York beautifully; all its shiny art deco interiors. The Van Doren’s country estate in Connecticut is picture perfect, too – all shimmering autumnal privilege.
The script by former film critic Paul Attanasio is by turns surprising, witty and inspiring. Quiz Show is a smart grown up film dealing with big moral issues, complex , compelling characters set against a lovingly recreated and beautiful backdrop.
I’m giving Quiz Show 4 game show buzzers out of 4!
And now I’m off to see if I can find any more game show related movies to review. Can you think of any? If you can, please do let me know!
Until next time…