Quiz Show

Mr. Redford makes films that hover, hang out and make you almost scream for more but he is a careful, prudent director to the point of being frugal. However, he hardly ever got it as right as in this brilliant film. “Quiz Show” is based on a true story about a show called “21” popular in the 1950s. The show was rigged and white folks were given the answers so that they could defeat their Jewish competitors. Believed by many to be a cultural turning point in America where general social naiveté was finally laid bare by the crooks running the TV network.

The program does well for itself until it does too well. Charles Van Doren (played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes), a professor at Columbia and the son of a distinguished poet is its latest victim or rather beneficiary. His adversary is Herbie Stempel (John Turturro in probably his best role to date) a victim so obnoxious and greedy that one cannot feel any sympathy for him at all.

Struggling with his moral duty, ambition and pure admiration for a smart, cultured but troubled Van Doren is Dick Goodwin (Rom Morrow), an idealistic Washington lawyer who sees through the show but cannot quite get to commit to exposing it unless his fearless wife, (Mira Sorvino in a brilliant cameo) exposes his own complex about his Jewish identity.

Probably the most important single achievement of this film is in its highlighting of the myth often used in justification of civil crime that a falsehood that does no harm other than compromising the belief system of people is somehow benign, which, of course, is a complete falsehood in itself.