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Inspired by the recent Academy Awards, I went and looked up an old favorite of mine that was nominated for four Oscars in 1995, but went home empty handed.  Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford, is an examination of the game-show scandals of the 1950s, when many quiz shows were rigged, with the contestants often knowing the questions and the answers beforehand.

Quiz Show

This is just one of Buena Vista’s catalog titles.  No special features here.  Maybe if Quiz Show had won some of those Oscars it was nominated for, we’d see a special edition DVD.  If it’s special features you want, you can check out the 2-disc SE of Forrest Gump, the movie that beat out Quiz Show for Best Picture of 1994.

Quiz Show is an extremely entertaining movie about a subject that doesn’t sound very entertaining at all.  In the 1950s, many TV game shows were fixed--tailor-made to maintain an audience by keeping certain contestants on until the public got tired of them.  One of these rigged game shows was NBC’s Twenty-One, a trivia game with a point system based on that of the card game blackjack.  Quiz Show tells the mostly true story of what happened behind the scenes of Twenty-One.

Quiz Show

John Turturro gives an amazing performance as Herbert Stempel, a blue-collar guy from Queens who, at the time, was Twenty-One’s big winner.  Stempel’s dreams of fame and fortune are stifled when the show’s producers (David Paymer and Hank Azaria) decide it’s time for Stempel to cut his losses and leave, as ratings indicate the audiences have grown tired of him.  They choose as his replacement respected college professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), the antithesis of Stempel--Van Doren is an aristocratic intellectual from a prominent family (Paul Scofield got an Oscar nomination for playing Van Doren’s father.)  Neither contestant is completely happy with the new situation.  Stempel, furious at essentially being fired, is appeased by false promises of his own NBC show... until the producers stop returning his calls.  Van Doren, on the other hand, is a shy guy who learns to like the attention he gets from being America’s quiz show hero, but he’s soon pulled into a moral dilemma over the show’s crooked practices.

The movie is more or less told through the eyes of Richard Goodwin, a Washington, D.C. investigator for the Subcommittee of Legislative Oversight.  The movie’s Oscar nominated screenplay is based on a portion of Goodwin’s book, Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, which is a good read if you come across it.  Goodwin, played by Rob Morrow in the movie, is intrigued by a grand jury case involving accusations Stempel makes against the game show Twenty-One.  This prompts Goodwin to go to New York to investigate further.  Goodwin steps right into a nightmare of accusations and deception.  It’s all pretty suspenseful (I think the movie has a lot in common with Michael Mann’s The Insider), but it’s got a good sense of humor, too.  Rob Morrow is well-cast as the often wisecracking investigator, and Turturro creates a masterpiece of annoyance with the short-tempered Herbert Stempel, which, based on what I read in Goodwin’s book, is pretty close to the truth.

Quiz Show is a great movie about an event in American history that not many people recognize as a true turning point.  This is when people realized that their TVs could lie to them.  Although the movie dramatizes the facts a bit--the events that take place over a few months in the movie actually took years to unfold, and they happened after nearly all the quiz shows were canceled--this is a great example of how immense real-life events can be condensed by great filmmaking (Robert Redford scored a nomination for Best Director) into a snappy, suspenseful, entertaining, and informative movie.  Look for cameos by directors Barry Levinson, and Martin Scorsese, who plays a sponsor of Twenty-One.

Quiz Show

Not good.  Quiz Show is presented in its original Widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The video here could be worse, but it really is sort of distracting.  The huge problem is the unbelievable amount of edge enhancement.  It’s everywhere, in every scene.  Chapter 2, the opening scene in which a car salesman shows Richard Goodwin a brand new Chrysler, sets the tone for the rest of the movie as far as video.  It’s just too sharp.

The edge enhancement is really the only terrible thing.  Nearly every scene in the movie has a faint grainy look, but it’s barely noticeable.  The edge enhancement, though.  Yikes.  Quiz Show is one of those DVDs that when you watch it, it would probably be a good idea to turn down the sharpness level on your television.  It may not look like razor-sharp digital video after that, but at least it’s a little easier on the eyes.

Quiz Show’s Dolby 2.0 Surround track is decent enough.  The dialog and the music (the Twenty-One theme song is used frequently in the movie) are nice and clear.  It’s a Dolby Surround track, but it won’t make much use of your surround speakers, except in the scenes on the set of Twenty-One when the audience applauds.

Composer Mark Isham’s cool 50s-style score sounds pretty good.  There are times when the music sounds a little strained and just a bit scratchy (particularly the end of the opening credits, set to Bobby Darin’s song, Mac the Knife), but again, this isn’t that noticeable.

A French language track, also in Dolby 2.0 Surround, is included as well.

All we get are Film Recommendations, and Quiz Show’s original trailer.  I know it’s just a trailer, but... it is a pretty good trailer, I guess.  It’s just one quick scene from the movie, the scene where the producers try to convince Charles Van Doren to agree to answer questions he already knows.

So it’s a good trailer, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of supplements.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a new special edition, but the chances of that happening are slim to none.

Quiz Show is a pleasant surprise.  I like movies that take historical events that seem unimportant--things that you probably wouldn’t find in a history book--and show us what a big deal they actually were.  (The Insider comes to mind again.)  There’s little to no exaggeration in Quiz Show.  Actually, the movie doesn’t even really get into the long-term effects of this embarrassing show business scandal.
The video is pretty bad due to constant edge enhancement.  The audio is nothing special, but it doesn’t disappoint like the video quality does.  And there are practically zero extra features (do trailers and recommendations count anymore?)  Still, if you’re a fan of Quiz Show, this is probably as good as it’s going to get.