Quiz Show

Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show” is a hard movie to review, because it is a very strong movie in almost everything but pacing. Its largest strengths are in the quality of performance and the style of the period piece.

“Quiz Show” is about television game shows in the early days of the medium, the 1950’s. This film focuses on one particular game show, “21,” as the producers’ actions caused a congressional investigation. The producers would hand pick certain contestants to be fed the correct answers so they would win. Once the ratings would peak they would dump those contestants in favor of new contestants who would spike ratings.

Shooter Mcgavin hosts the crooked games show.
Shooter Mcgavin hosts the crooked games show.


The events of the movie are kicked off when the 21 producers tell quiz champion, Herbie Stempel, to take a dive on the next show. Stempel is played by John Turtorro, who I absolutely love as an actor. Turtorro plays Stempel in a delightfully annoying way, in fact, part of the reason the producers dump Stempel is because how annoying he is. Stempel, insulted by the way he was treated, remains a thorn in the side of the show’s producers.

This guy is frustrating.
This guy is frustrating.


Ralph Fiennes plays the charming Charles Van Doren, a college professor, and the contestant ear marked to beat Stempel. Fiennes does well in the role but his accent is interesting. This is the first time I have heard Fiennes attempt an American accent, and I am not sure if I like it. The most recent film I saw with Fiennes was Schindler’s List, and his accent in that film is close to the one he used in “Quiz Show.” It feels like his attempt to do a high-brow-Northeastern-American accent. I don’t think it quite works.



Van Dorren has an interesting relationship with lawyer Dick Goodwin, who is investigating the fraud happening on “21.” There is a lot of screen time devoted to these two characters and how their relationship grows. Goodwin clearly respects Van Dorren greatly and does not what to believe that he is a willing participant in the corruption. Goodwin does everything in his power to prevent Van Dorren from being brought in to the investigation, and succeeds, despite the fact that it hurts his own professional career.

Ultimately the film ends with the various people involved with 21 being brought before congress to answer questions. This includes the heads of NBC and Geritol. The producers admit to fixing the results of the show for the purpose of providing the public with entertainment, not a genuine contest. Despite the investigation, the higher-ups are not affected, in fact, nothing really changes with the television industry. The only person to be brought down is Van Dorren, who loses his teaching position because of his association with the fraud.

“Quiz Show” is a good movie, but it moves too slow for a viewer to stay absolutely invested. The sets are cool and stylish, great for creating the feel of the period piece. I love all the actors in this film, and can’t really give any critique in their performances. Look for an interesting cameo from director Martin Scorsese, and a young Hank Azaria. It is worth the watch if you have some time on your hands.

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