Quiz Show (1994)

Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek were secretly in cahoots this whole time.

This is the true story of Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), who rocketed to national fame as a repeat winner on the TV quiz show “Twenty-One.” In the late 1950s, prime-time game shows were a cultural phenomenon. But the American public didn’t realize it was being hoodwinked … until persevering congressional investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) unmasked the corruption behind the show’s glittering façade.

I never fully knew anything about these cases that took place back in the 50’s but I was somehow always interested in them. However when my interest is compared to the interest of Robert Redford, I don’t even stand anywhere close.

Redford is a great actor but also a great director and he shows that well here with showing true passion that he feels for this subject material. Every little fine detail that Redford can get, he puts right up there on screen and you can feel that he not only feels strongly about what is happening here but what is also being told through these historic events.

We as people do not look at the way we make our own choices. Most of the time we look at the rewards we get from making that choice, or what happens to us after wards, or just anything that has to do with something positive coming out of the choice, but we never look at the moral side of it. Is what I am doing right, not just for me but for another person as well? There were many moments where this film brought this up and by the end of the flick a lot of it really starts to show up but not in a very over-powering way. It’s somehow a subtle message that this film shows very well without throwing it right into our faces.

Screenwriter Paul Attanasio is the real reason why this film works so well because he does a lot of great stuff with this subject matter and keeps it going and going. There is a lot of the constant talking back-and-forth between two characters with plenty of intelligence, wit, and sharpness to what everybody is saying and made this film so entertaining in the first place. It’s weird to even say that I was actually tense in many occasions and I could tell that Attanasio had a lot to do here as a screen-writer, but does a superb job at handling it all.

The problem that I had with this screenplay was that I felt it felt too much like historical fiction, which I knew that it was going for in the first place, but for some odd reason took me out of the film a bit. The film uses real characters in some real situations but then there are other times where the situations these characters find themselves into seem a bit too fake to even be considered real. Yes, I do wish these actual real-life people had these type of conversations but it was almost too hard to believe that anyone would ever talk like they were reading an Aaron Sorkin script.

Something that Redford should really receive big-time credit for was getting this whole ensemble cast together and have them all do perfect jobs. John Turturro is fun to watch as the crazy and a bit loopy former-champ, Herb Stompel, and actually provides a very zany character that is also very sad; Ralph Fiennes is just about perfect as Charles Van Doren who is so cool, so charming, and so smart that it almost is a total shocker that he ends up being a bad dude after all, and no that was not a spoiler because they basically show you within the first 20 to 30 minutes; and Paul Scofield is terrific as his father, Mark Van Doren, and makes it abundantly clear why he was the only actor from this whole cast to get nominated for an Oscar. To be honest though, how could they have picked from this huge cast of A-list actors that all have reputations to do great.

The one performance I felt that was the weakest of all was the one given by Rob Morrow as Dick Goodwin. This guy is essentially our main protagonist who goes through this whole discovery and gives us his little insight on everything, which was supposed to have us root for him but it made me just want to see more of Fiennes instead. The problem with Morrow is that this Jewish-like Brooklyn accent he does throughout the whole film seems a little too flat and almost like he just went to a baseball game in New York and came back doing impersonations of the Yankee fans for his buds. Another reason why it was a big problem because without me really being able to believe or even stand seeing Morrow up on screen, I couldn’t get behind him fully and that sort of created an empty center.

Consensus: Robert Redford may lose some moments in script-writing with Quiz Show but other than it’s amazing with pitch-perfect performances from the whole cast (except for maybe Morrow), a nice deal of subject material goes a long way, and just a great message about morals and why they should come in the way of almost every decision we ever make in our lives, even if it does concern a game-show. That Robert Redford, not only is he handsome as hell, he can write and direct like a legend.



  1. Great film; it’s one that’s really stuck with me since I saw it when it was new. I love the little nods to how easy it is for a lie to unravel if someone acts just a little bit out of character; “Don’t make me take a fall on Marty!” Nice review, I’m glad you liked the film.

  2. This a great movie, I just saw it recently and I enjoyed it. I agree with everything you said in your review. Well review written too.

  3. I remember seeing this one and really like it. It just goes to show that you can’t get away from corruption, especially when we all have a lying machine right in our own houses (the TV!) Great review!

    • It’s very revealing in that aspect and made me realize that not maybe everything I see on game shows is exactly what I expect it to be. Thanks!

  4. Great revew and an amazing film, this and Frost/Nixon are two movies that create so much tension just relying on strong characters and wonderfully written dialogues.

  5. Good review. I think Morrow was at the height of his popularity with his TV show Northern Exposure at the time, so I believe that was why he was cast. He played a New York Jewish doctor in the show, and I believe he had the same voice in Quiz Show. Turturro was the one that stuck out for me because his character was unlikable. Usually movies will go the easy route and make the victim sympathetic, but Turturro played his character unlikable enough to cast a little bit of doubt on how much it was anti-Semitism and how much it was plain dislike for the man, that caused the game show to get rid of him.

    • True! It was a definite good road for this flick to go down and it’s just another one of those perfect performances from Turturro that he always gives. Thanks Chip!

  6. Love Redford, Fiennes, and Turturro so I just added this to my Netflix queue. Turturro is one of the best character actors out there in my opinion.

  7. Morrow’s accent is attempted Massachusettes as opposed to attempted Brooklyn. (“Attempted” is the key word.) Dick Goodwin was a Bostonion and ended up working for JFK, LBJ, & RFK. Plus he mentions “Hah-vahd” like a wicked amount of times.

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