By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
After the recent post-summer dry spell of dusty Hollywood banality, one of the year's most exciting, provocative and socially pertinent films has finally arrived. The film, "Quiz Show," directed by Robert Redford ("A River Runs Through It"), is a dramatization of a scandalous event in television's early history.
"Quiz Show" tells the story of the immensely popular question and answer game show "Twenty-One" which ran opposite "I Love Lucy" in 1956. It focuses on one famous contestant, charming Columbia instructor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes of "Shindler's List"). Charles hesitantly agrees to let the show's producers give him the answers in order to make him an unbeatable celebrity who will increase ratings and sell the sponsor's product, Geritol.
The movie details the scandal's unveiling by Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin played with sardonic wit by Rob Morrow ("Northern Exposure"). Through his eyes, the movie questions the moral responsibility of the cultural elite.
Redford's past movies, like "Ordinary People" and "A River Runs Through It," have been leisurely depictions of family interactions in rural settings. The style of "Quiz Show" is more intense, aided by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, a frequent collaborator with Martin Scorsese (who makes a cameo as a network sponsor). Ballhaus and Redford lend tension to the game show scenes through acute compositions and unexpected camera movements.
The movie is filled with great performances. John Turturro ("Barton Fink") plays Herbie Stempel, the frustrated contestant who loses to Charles, not because of lower intelligence, but because of his less promotable image.
But the most engaging performance in the movie is given by Paul Scofield ("A Man for All Seasons"), who brings tremendous charm to the role of Charles' eccentric father, Mark Van Doren, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and accomplished English professor who embraces the ideological literary tradition with loving devotion.
The events surrounding "Quiz Show" predated larger scandals like Watergate, Iran-Contra, and various media-oriented deceptions that were to become rampant in the years to follow.
The beauty of "Quiz Show" lies in its observant character studies and probing of personal ethics when it would have been much easier to simply sensationalize the movie's events.
"Quiz Show" opens Friday at Century Gateway, 792-9000
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