|Quiz Show (1994; Hollywood Pictures)|
Director: Robert Redford
Writer: Paul Attanasio based the book by Richard N. Goodwin
Starring: John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, David Paymer, Hank Azaria
In November of 1959, wealthy heir and university professor Charles Van Doren approached a House Committee in Congress and confessed to his complicity in a series of deceptive acts involving the super-hit NBC trivia game show “Twenty-One”. It was a long-brewing and highly televised controversy that brought to light the deception of Hollywood and the way the entertainment industry is more than willing to deceive millions for ratings, a fact we simply take for granted these days. The controversy began when a former superstar contestant, Herb Stempel, confessed to investigators at the House Committee on Legislative Oversight that he was asked by the popular show’s producers to lose to Van Doren. In retaliation, he began to pursue aggressive legal action and took steps to expose the deception, not necessarily out of the desire to bring the show’s practices to light, rather it was to do harm to those he felt wronged him, Van Doren in-particular. Envy and bitterness consumed him.
All of this actually happened, and has gone down as one of the most infamous controversies in Hollywood history, and it was all chronicled masterfully in Richard N. Goodwin’s captivating examination. In spite of the book’s success at the time, by 1994, most of America had forgotten about the events surrounding Twenty-One, with nearly forty years of powerful events separating and drowning out this seemingly-”trivial” (pardon the pun) federal case. Leave it to The Sundance Kid and an unknown screenwriter to bring the events to life for a whole new generation in the most fascinating form imaginable.
Quiz Show is a masterwork of procedural storytelling. As the events play out, it all feels too real. The performances are outstanding, bringing these long-forgotten individuals back to life. John Turturro, still in his prime, and Ralph Fiennes masterfully recreate the show’s embattled contestants, B-list actor Rob Morrow’s performance as a House Investigator ties the story together, and Paymer and Azaria’s sleezy producers are detestable to the extent that you can’t look away. There is not a boring moment in this movie. In spite of a seemingly-dull premise, Quiz Show is a gripping portal into the lives and mentalities of a few TV semi-celebrities whose legacies would be forever tainted by their decisions to embrace greed and fame over their own intellectual integrity.