Robert Redford’s 1994 masterpiece deserves much more recognition than it ever got.
Here, he produced and directed a stellar cast that showed how America was always in it for the competition and for the glory and for the fame and naturally for the money.
Redford opens his film with a car salesman describing the regal elegance and perfection of a 1957 Chrysler convertible. It’s a gorgeous car. Then the potential buyer turns on the radio. The car isn’t so fascinating anymore as a news announcement reveals that Russia beat the United States into space with its launch of Sputnik. All America has now is just a car.
Opening credits roll and the next American sensation is presented, “21,” the most popular show displayed on the greatest invention, a home television set. However, the show is all a lie, and yet by the end it’ll survive along with its network, NBC, and its wealthy sponsors.
“Quiz Show” foreshadows the cost of fame and attention. It’s a wonderful sensation until it’s stripped away in personal disgrace. John Turturro (how did he not get an Oscar nomination?) is Herb Stemple, the champion, nerdy schlub who is growing tiresome among producers and audiences. He is forced to take a dive and be replaced by the handsome Charles Van Doren played Ralph Fiennes, a member of one of the country’s most intellectually gifted families. The difference in appearance is obvious. So is the desire for a change in programming. What’s obvious is how the two men are exploited as pawns for gain in corporate America. Cheat, but if you call it television, what harm is there really?
The harm falls in public perception. Disgrace comes to these men, and worse, to their families. It mirrors modern stories like Harvey Weinstein, Joe Paterno, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer.
It’s a very calm film that debates the ethics of these men and necessities to uncover the truths and reveal the falsehoods.
Redford only gets aggressive in his period settings and I’m thankful for it. Nothing looks out of place, including the large enthusiastic grins of a 1950s American viewing audience dressed elegantly and innocent. Even nuns and pajama clad children are invested in “21.” This clean cut appearance will soon fade , however, after the quiz show scandal dies down.
Ugly lies and denials were committed against Redford’s beautiful backdrops. Therein lies the necessary conflict of another fascinating story.
Was this country ever innocent?