(director/producer: Robert Redford; screenwriter: Paul Attanasio/from the book Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties by Richard N. Goodwin; cinematographer: Michael Ballhouse; editor: Stu Linder; music: Mark Isham; cast: John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Barry Levinson (Dave Garroway), Mira Sorvino (Miss Sandra Goodwin), Martin Scorsese (Sponsor), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Richard N. Goodwin/Michael Jacobs/Michael Nozik/Julian Krainin; Buena Vista Home Entertainment; 1994)

“Robert Redford does a superb directing job.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

America in the placid ’50s is busy watching T.V. quiz shows and the Cold War heat up and feeling good about itself as the moral voice in the world. The most popular show at the time is “Twenty-One.” In 1958, the handsome Columbia University English lecturer Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), the son of the noted Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, became reigning champ and a national celebrity. All seemed well with America, as the nice guy with the genius IQ, Van Doren, seemed liked the perfect role model and icon for the country. But all this abruptly changes when the pudgy, pushy, unlikable Herbie Stempel (John Turturro), a disgruntled defeated former champion (winning $70,000 before replaced by Van Doren) with a superior memory and a broad base of knowledge, a Jewish working stiff from Queens, goes to the press and challenges the prestigious integrity of the patrician WASPish Charles Van Doren by claiming the show was fixed. The shocked country learns from Van Doren’s better-late-than-never confession that he’d been fed all the questions in advance.

Robert Redford does a superb directing job in getting to the truth and making it into a Faustian drama about America’s fall from innocence by the end of the 1950s, using Paul Attanasio’s brilliant screenplay derived from one chapter in Congressman Richard N. Goodwin book Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties.

Though the film lets Van Doren off easy, it nevertheless relentlessly shows there was an ethnic and class conflict as well as a media corruption scandal of major proportions. Rob Morrow is excellent as Richard N. Goodwin, the spirited and ambitious House subcommittee member who sniffed out the conspiracy to cover things up and led the charge against the quiz show, even though it meant bringing down a man he respected.

The film is perfectly accomplished as a look at America in the 1950s and how the scandal reflected the changes in America’s integrity. It shows the influence TV and advertising had in changing the American character, using wit and insight to tell its captivating true story.

Quiz Show was nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Paul Scofield.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”