Off the Shelf: ‘Quiz Show’

Fourteen years after winning a Best Director Oscar for ‘Ordinary People’, Robert Redford almost struck gold once again (four Oscar nominations but no wins) with ‘Quiz Show’. The movie is arguably the most audience-friendly of Redford’s directorial career, with great performances and a splashy, briskly-paced presentation that is one of Redford’s most visually appealing films. Sadly, Disney (under the now-defunct Hollywood Pictures banner) has only released a Blu-ray in Australia. The good news is that it’s region-free should you like to get your hands on a copy.

Quiz Show

Theatrical Release Date: October 7, 1994
Blu-ray Release Date (Region B, Australia): February 6, 2013
Directed by: Roy Hobbs
Starring: Barton Fink, Dr. Joel Fleischman, Lord Voldemort, and A Man for All Seasons.
Budget: $31 million ($52 million in 2017 dollars)
Box Office Gross (Domestic): $24.8 million ($41.5 million in 2017 dollars)

Blu-ray A/V Pluses and Minuses

Overall, the video transfer here is nicely done. While some of the scenes come off a little flat-looking from time to time, detail is nice (if not quite razor-sharp) in most scenes, and film grain is evident throughout, although never to the point of being obtrusive. The audio fares even better, giving viewers a pleasant 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is free of any apparent glitches.

The Plot in a Sentence

Based on real-life events, ‘Quiz Show’ details the biggest game show scandal in history, which took place in the 1950s on NBC’s ‘Twenty One’.

Best Reason to Watch

The performances. From Jon Turturro to Ralph Fiennes to, yes, even Rob Morrow, the cast here is top-notch and almost everyone is impressive to watch.

Worst Reason to Watch

Historical accuracy. For the purposes of storytelling, Director Redford has condensed events and amalgamated characters – most notably that of Morrow’s Dick Goodwin, who in reality came onto the scene after the press had already uncovered the scandal.

Well-Known Fact

The game show cheating wasn’t actually against any law at the time. It was the cover-up from those involved that got the players into trouble. Of course, the scandal led to new rules about on-air contests.

Not-So-Well-Known Fact

The real-life Herb Stempel (now in his 90s) has said that every time ‘Quiz Show’ airs on TV, he’ll get a phone call or two from some random stranger asking him, “What motion picture won the Academy Award for 1955?” Ironically, although the movie leads you to believe so, this wasn’t the question that cost Stempel the game. In the real-life episode, it just prevented him from winning the game, allowing Van Doren to tie him in the first match between the two, with Stempel losing the second round.

Best Scene

Believe it or not, nothing beats the opening credits of this movie. Redford takes viewers on a tour of New York in the 1950s as we watch the questions for ‘Twenty One’ make their trip from a bank vault to the NBC studios to the tune of Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife.”

Worst Scene(s)

A Congressional hearing toward the end of the film where Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) confesses his sins. It’s supposed to be a powerful moment, but it’s one of the few scenes in Redford’s film that comes off as stagy. Of course, the same can be said of real-life Congressional hearings, so perhaps that was intentional.

Best Line in ‘Quiz Show’

“Do you think he might see me before the peacock molts?”

Best Cameo

Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese playing an advertisement executive for Geritol, the main sponsor of ‘Twenty One’.

And the Oscar Goes to… No One

‘Quiz Show’ was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Alas, 1994 was the year of ‘Forrest Gump’ (winner of those two awards) as well as ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, so Redford’s movie is often forgotten when films of that year come into conversation.

Best Thing About the Blu-ray

The movie itself, since Disney has been pretty stingy with extras – offering only an archival (and standard-def) behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie (which runs about three minutes) and a pair of theatrical trailers.

Worth Picking Up?

Yes, if you can find a copy at a reasonable price. It’s been four years since Disney released this title in Australia, and there’s been no talk of releasing it in the United States. The best opportunity will come in 2019, when ‘Quiz Show’ marks its 25th anniversary. But even if it gets a Region A release then, chances are likely it will be the same transfer (if not the same exact disc) we see here.

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