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Quiz Show (1994)

Quiz Show is a 1994 drama directed by Robert Redford starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes.  This 50’s themed film is based on the Twenty-One quiz show scandal which, at the time, plagued the contestants and network.  The film’s plot begins with a contestant named Herb Stempel (John Turturro) who is absolutely brilliant and seemingly knows all the correct answers.  The network producers such as Dan Enright and Albert Freedman are told by the network bosses to make Mr. Stempel take a dive so that a new contestant is able to take over the position.  The reason behind this is that the network tries to garner the highest ratings possible and for that reason must terminate Stempel because since his arrival, the show’s ratings have simply stayed nominal.  Stempel painstakingly thinks about the opportunity to intentionally lose and ultimately loses so that he could receive $50,000 cash from NBC.  These beginning scenes bring about a series of events which create an interesting storyline considering the following contestant who follows Stempel named Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) has a different perspective on the entertainment industry and the game show Twenty One.

One of the varying themes annunciated throughout the film was that the show Twenty One was not ultimately about knowledge, but rather its ability to rake in viewers.  Charles Van Doren enjoyed his time on Twenty One.  The problem was he sought money and fame although he knew that he would be dishonest to the American viewer.  He was basically cheating the game and the other contestants by having the answers rehearsed to him by the producers backstage so that he could continue onto the next round. Once Stempel began making wild accusations about the game show, Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow) began his own Congressional investigation into the matter.   Another theme present in this film was how seductive a celebrity status can be and how easily that status can diminish.  This film showed the viewing audience how a man such as Charles Van Doren could so easily rise to prominence and then fall so quickly out of the public’s eye.

This film is considered to be a historical drama based on the actual events which occurred in the 50’s Quiz Show scandal.  Since this film is based off of historical events, the film’s plot adapted the events which transpired during the Twenty One scandal.  The plot was not overly complex but it was quite interesting to see how the characters’ lives were affected by the game show in both a positive and negative manner.  The films plot really has the audience on the edge of their seat for the simple reason that the audience does not know which route the main characters choose.  For example, does Charles Van Doren continue his deceitful game show escapade? Or does Charles Van Doren provide the American public an honest behind the scenes look at NBC and the game show Twenty One?

The film’s cinematography is very good. One aspect that helped illustrate the film’s various character emotions were the use of close-up’s on the characters.  For example, when a scene required deep emotional reactions from characters, the camera would zoom in to show the face of a character and his/her reactions.  Other cinematographical effects employed were the way the camera would be able to capture many characters all at once.  A scene which used this type of angle was when the camera would show the emotions of two contestants along with the shows moderator.  By having a wide angle shot like what was used in Quiz Show, the viewing audience has not only the feeling of watching the game show on TV but also providing the audience with the three characters and their differing perspectives.  Overall, Quiz Show provided the viewing audience with a lot of emotions and delivered an exhilarating plot with a surprise ending.

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