A big-money, high-stakes TV game show becomes the subject of scandal when a Washington investigator uncovers corruption behind-the-scenes – implicating both the current and former champs.
I saw Quiz Show when it was first released on VHS back in 1995 and I instantly fell in love with it. I’m not sure why – I was 14, why would a movie about a quiz show scandal in the 1950s resonate with me? There was no murder, no mayhem, no car chases, no lightsabers yet it held my attention and kept me on the edge of my seat, leaving a lasting impression as a film I enjoyed.
A few weeks ago, I wanted to show it to a friend. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, maybe since the 90s, but I still remembered it just being good. We sat down to watch it and for a moment I was worried it might be awful, that maybe I was the only person who remembered it because I was a teen when I saw it and glossed over any problems with the movie. Luckily, I was wrong.
The movie is still perfect and still scarily relevant. It deals with issues of racism, ethics, rich vs poor, the American Dream, television, politics, and the definition of entertainment. It’s about money, self destruction, our idea of justice and the reality of our justice system. It is about the invasion of technology and how it changes our culture. It’s about growing up and trying to earn the respect of your peers and the temptation to do whatever it takes to become famous.
Robert Redford directed this movie and he FILLED the cast with amazing actors, down to the random guy in the background. Every single actor in this movie is amazing. Rob Morrow as Richard Goodwin hits it out of the park as the Jewish lawyer from Washington D.C. who manages to straddle the two worlds that John Turturro’s Herb Stempel and Ralph Fiennes’ Charles Van Doren inhabit. He understands the prejudices that Stempel faces as a Jewish man from Queens and he longs for a life like Van Doren’s where being over-educated is respected rather than suspected.
These three men carry the weight of the movie on their shoulders, but then you have the rest of the supporting cast. Mira Sorvino plays Goodwin’s wife who spends most of her time trying to help him see both sides when he gets caught up in one of them. Hank Azaria and David Paymer play the two tv executives behind the fixed show “Twenty One” and they both manage to make these men into real people and not just caricatures of the fast-talking jerks they could have been. Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, the father of Charles, elevates the film with what little screen time he has, breaking your heart as he tries to support a son who just wants to get out from under his shadow. And Johann Carlo as Herbert Stempel’s wife, who loves her husband and her family, no matter how crazy they make her. And even the tiny role of the owner of Geritol, the sponsor of “Twenty One” is played by Martin Scorsese who gives a fantastic performance.
If you’ve never seen Quiz Show I highly recommend picking it up ASAP. Heck, if you saw it back when it was initially released, pick it up again. You’ll be amazed by how little has changed.