Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Quiz Show (1964)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Quiz Show (1994)

In director Robert Redford's engrossing morality play about the fixed quiz show scandals of the late 1950's - involving two "Twenty One" NBC TV quiz show contestants in a program sponsored by Geritol: a WASP patrician cheater and a Queens-living Jew:

  • the opening pre-credits sequence - set in a Chrysler showroom where cigar-chomping, recent Harvard Law School graduate Richard 'Dick' Goodwin (Rob Morrow) was being tempted to buy a luxury Chrysler 300D convertible with an interior of "pigskin and calfskin - hand-rubbed"; a broadcast on the car's radio announced the US' losing space race with Russia ("The Russians have beaten us into outer space. You are listening to the sound of Sputnik, a satellite launched this morning via rocket, in orbit, right now, directly over our heads. A sound that says all is not well with America"); a sense of luring danger was re-emphasized with Bobby Darin's snappy, upbeat "Mack the Knife" (bookended at the end of the film) about sharks with "pearly white" teeth
  • the cross-cutting montage sequence of the "Twenty-One" show's 'secret' answers transported from a secured bank vault in an armored truck through the streets of NYC with a police motorcycle escort, with images of sheep-like workers urgently rushing home or to TV sets in the evening to watch the show, and ending with the low-angle, towering view of 30 Rockefeller Center
  • the broadcast of the late 1950s NBC-TV game show "Twenty-One" with authentic period design of the studio, and the prominent product placement of sponsor Geritol ("America's #1 tonic. Geritol, the fast-acting, high-potency tonic, that helps you feel... stronger... fast... "), as the announcer stated: "Brought to you by NBC, the National Broadcasting Company, broadcasting nationally coast to coast, from New York to Los Angeles, from Seattle to St. Petersburg via a vast network of affiliates crisscrossing the country...Two players racing to score 21 points, each in a soundproof television studio, not knowing the other one's score, with $500 riding on each they both play 21"
Twenty-One Host Jack Barry
(Christopher McDonald)
Herb Stempel (John Turturro)
  • the preening host Jack Barry (Christopher McDonald), placed between the two isolation booths, announced: "Remember, the questions on 'Twenty-One' are secured each week in a Manhattan bank vault 'til just before show time. So right now, let's meet Herbert Stempel and his challenger, as Geritol, America's #1 tonic, presents 'Twenty-One'"
  • the character of Jewish working class, Queens-living, geeky 29-year-old ex-G.I. college student, trivia expert and show contestant Herb Stempel (John Turturro), who was overly-talkative and kept interrupting the host; a blonde watching the show with Geritol CEO Martin Rittenhome (Martin Scorsese) commented on Stempel's unappealing appearance: "Now, there's a face for radio" - there were efforts already underway to unseat Stempel, who remained "unstumpable" genius during numerous stand-offs against opponents - appearing desperate, nervous and uneasy (non-telegenic qualities) with a darkened tooth in the sound-proof booth (later, he boasted to his wife Toby (Johann Carlo): "I'm the guy who knows everything")
  • the behind-the scenes maneuverings of NBC Chief Robert Kintner (Allan Rich) and Geritol's CEO to remove Stempel from his top spot because ratings had leveled; there were pressures on NBC executives: slimeball producer Dan Enright (David Paymer) and his assistant Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria), to boost ratings by finding an individual to defeat and replace the All-American underdog Herb; (one of the TV show's viewers was Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes)) - who was introduced astutely answering some of the questions during the show (before Herb did) by himself in a bar
Behind-the-Scenes Efforts to Remove Herb
Geritol CEO Martin Rittenhome
(Martin Scorsese)
NBC Chief Robert Kintner (Allan Rich)
NBC producer Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria)
NBC producer Dan Enright (David Paymer)
  • the coincidental auditioning of popular, clean-cut, handsome, distinguished and intelligent, WASP-ish bachelor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) to be a contestant for one of the Barry/Enright Production quiz shows (Tic Tac Dough) - he was suggested instead for 'Twenty-One'; his credentials were impeccable: an English instructor at Columbia University (for $86 dollars a week) - the son of the famed, ethical Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Professor Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) also at Columbia; he was thought to be a perfect replacement for Herb, who was regarded by Freedman as: "an annoying Jewish guy with a sidewall haircut"
  • the first suggestion that the show was rigged came when both Freedman and Enright asked Van Doren if he would appear on the show and answer questions (from his audition) that he had already gotten right; Van Doren wondered: "l thought the questions were in a bank vault....l think l'd really rather try to beat him honestly"; Freedman replied: "lt's not like we'd be giving you the answers. Just 'cause we know you know, you still know"; Van Doren was being lured into appearing on the show to answer questions he already knew, but then mused to Freedman and Enright: ("I'm just trying to imagine what Kant would make of this"); Freedman responded: "I don't think he'd have a problem with it"; Enright added: "Think about what this could mean for the cause of education"; when Van Doren decided against appearing ("lt just doesn't seem right. l-l'd have to say no"), he changed his mind when the two producers promised it would be on the up-and-up (Enright: "So pure, it floats")
  • the implications made to Herb at a restaurant during dinner with Enright that the show's ratings had plateaued: ("They've already seen you win, and they want something new"), while Herb reacted: "You think they want me to lose?...Joe Louis was the champ for 12 years. Nobody ever wanted Joe Louis to lose"; Enright was very direct: "Look, you lose when l tell you to's an arrangement. lt's always been an arrangement"; during the scene, Herb expressed victimized anguish at being instructed to miss an easy question (about the Best Picture winner of 1955 - regarding the well-known film Marty (1955)) to hand a victory (in exchange for $70 grand) to his next opponent; Stempel felt humiliated: ("l saw Marty three times. The Best Picture from two years ago - and I don't know?"); Enright emphasized the drama of Stempel's loss ("Someone of your intellect, and it's such a simple question - don't you see the drama of that?...For 70 grand, Herb, you can afford to be humiliated"); later, he confided in his wife: "They want me to take a dive...They have to utz me with a question any child knows.....They just put me in an isolation booth and pump cyanide into it"
Herb Encouraged to Lose by Enright
  • the tense sequence of Herb's appearance on the show competing for the first time against Van Doren, when he was asked the 'dive' question ("Which motion picture won the Academy Award for 1955?") to which he deliberately answered wrongly with "On the Waterfront"; in the round, Van Doren then bid 11 points to win 21 with a question he had already answered during his audition: "Who was the commanding general of the Union army at that time (when Ulysses S. Grant was briefly placed on arrest in 1862)?" - he correctly answered 'General H.W. Halleck', and became the new champion; his disorientation and conflicted feelings about winning were reflected by his circular, dizzying descent down the stairs; however, he began regular coaching of questions and answers by Freedman
  • subsequently, Herb attacked the show and testified to the New York D.A. Frank Hogan (who then convened a sealed grand jury) on the "fixed" game show and how he was coached and paid to lose ("take a dive"); now an outsider without popularity or acclaim, Herb blamed anti-Semitic bias and maneuvering on the part of the show; in his NBC office, Enright urged Herb to sign a statement ("lt clears me and the show of any wrongdoing"); Herb refused and became incensed, after losing his prize money to an unscrupulous bookie - angry that Van Doren was now popular, and that he was completely forgotten and broke without any future in television on an NBC panel show: ("That big uncircumcised putz is on the cover of Time Magazine, and l can't even make the top 42 for a panel show...That should be me on the cover of Time")
  • the efforts of dogged federal investigator Dick Goodwin to unseal the grand jury's records and findings, uncover information, and eventually lead a Congressional legislative oversight sub-committee into the TV quiz show scandal: "We're gonna put television on trial. Television. Everybody in the country'll know about it...Sir, l smell somethin'. At least give me a chance to see what l can dig up"
  • the mesmerizing 'Name That Shakespeare" game played by Charles against his father Mark, at his father's birthday party outdoor gathering in Cornwall, Connecticut, where he received a console TV as a gift from Charles
  • the startling implication and confession by Herb to Goodwin that he assumed Van Doren was receiving the answers ahead of time because he also was dishonestly given the answers: "l know he got the answers.... Because l got the answers"
  • during a high-stakes poker game that included Van Doren and Goodwin, Van Doren bet $50 on his hand and Goodwin tellingly accused him of lying during the game ("I know you're lying") - Van Doren retorted: "Bluffing. The word is bluffing"
  • the late night-time scene of a strained-looking Charles with his father Mark alone at the dinner table in the family home while eating chocolate cake with a cold bottle of milk; the disbelieving Mark wondered how his son made answering trivia questions look so easy: "Good God, the pressure! All those lights, the money, those strange little booths, that man talking so fast, like being in a bull ring. l don't think l could remember my name.... lt's just amazing that you could make it look so easy"
  • the smash-zoom (Vertigo-like) camera angle of Van Doren from behind in the booth - who ended his reign as champion on a question about the King of Belgium; he answered Leopold (the correct answer was King Baudouin); he deliberately unseated himself due to the pressure and his own conscience, and then was offered, on the spot, a lucrative regular spot as a special cultural correspondent on the NBC Today Show (with Dave Garroway) - [Note: Shortly later, Van Doren admitted to Goodwin that he knew the answer, but after 14 weeks "wanted to get off the show"]
Father-Son Conversation Over Milk and Cake
Goodwin's Presentation of Concrete Evidence Against Enright and the Show
  • the sequence of Goodwin presenting concrete evidence of the show's corruption to Enright that a previous contestant, James Snodgrass, had been given answers previous to his appearance on the show: "ln this envelope are all the questions that James Snodgrass was asked on Twenty-One, okay? The odd thing about this envelope is he appeared on the show on January 13, yet somehow he mailed this to himself January 11, registered mail. l'd say that's pretty god-damn concrete, wouldn't you?"; Enright responded: "You want me to implicate the network?...lf l even hinted that the network knew, and they didn't know, they'd never let me through the door again"
  • the scene of Goodwin confronting Van Doren with the insightful and persistent question: "Are you telling me everybody got the answers but you?"
  • during the 1959 House sub-committee testimony, Herb testified: "l was given the questions and answers in advance" and that he had been rehearsed; he also implicated Van Doren without proof, reducing his credibility: ("Why would they give me the answers and not give him the answers?...You don't fix one guy without fixing the other guy")
  • in a private meeting with Goodwin, the show's sponsor, smug (Pharmaceuticals Inc.) Geritol president Martin Rittenhome claimed no responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the network; Rittenhome delivered a powerful line to Goodwin about the continuing popularity of quiz shows: "NBC is gonna go on. Geritol's gonna go on. Makes me wonder what you hope to accomplish with all this....Even the quiz shows'll be back. Why fix them? Think about it. You could do exactly the same thing by just making the questions easier. See, the audience didn't tune in to watch some amazing display of intellectual ability. They just wanted to watch the money"; also before the sub-committee, NBC top executive Robert Kintner flatly stated: ("l relied on the excellent reputation of Dan Enright....I never, never imagined they could perpetrate this fraud on the American public")
Herb Stempel
Martin Rittenhome
Robert Kintner
  • the news relayed to federal investigator Goodwin that Van Doren had made an official public statement that "at no time was he supplied with any questions, answers -- " - Goodwin knew this was an outright lie; with Van Doren in private, Goodwin recalled a family story about his uncle who strangely confessed to an affair eight years later - mainly because: "It was 'the getting away with it' part he couldn't live with"
  • the scene of Charles' discussion with his father about the ongoing investigation, who then quipped: "Cheating on a quiz show. That's like plagiarizing a comic strip"; he confessed to his stunned father that he had cheated - his father responded: "They gave you the answers?"; Charles explained his guilt away: ("At first, they just asked me questions they already knew l knew the answers to. We ran through those, and l still didn't want them to actually give me the answers, so l had them give me the questions and l'd go look up the answers on my own, as if that were any different. Well, we ran through those in a couple of weeks, and then l just didn't have the time. And finally, it just seemed silly"); his father asked: "They gave you all that money to answer questions they knew you knew!?"; Charles answered: "lt's television, Dad! Look, it's, it's just television", and provided a Shakespearean quote about the rigged quiz show: "An ill-favored thing, sir....But mine own. It was mine"; after his father objected to a continuation of their game ("This is not the time to play games"), he also struck back with a pained response: "Your name is mine!"
  • the climactic scene of Van Doren testifying before a House sub-committee with a prepared statement, and finally, in a "soul-searching" confession, he told the truth about his role in the conspiracy: "I would give almost anything I have to reverse the course of my life in the last year. The past doesn't change for anyone. But at least I can learn from the past. I've learned a lot about life. I've learned a lot about myself and about the responsibilities any man has to his fellow man. I've learned a lot about good and evil - they're not always what they appear to be. I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. I have deceived my friends, and I have millions of them. I lied to the American people. I lied about what I knew and then I lied about what I did not know. In a sense, I was like a child who refuses to admit a fact in the hope that it will go away. Of course, it did not go away. I was scared, scared to death. I had no solid position, no basis to stand on for my self. There was one way out and that was simply to tell the truth. It may sound trite to you, but I've found myself again after a number of years. I've been acting a role, maybe all my life, of thinking that I've done more, accomplished more, produced more than I have. I have had all the breaks. I have stood on the shoulders of life, and I've never gotten down into the dirt to build, to erect a foundation of my own. I have flown too high on borrowed wings. Everything came too easy. That is why I am here today"; after his appearance before the committee, Van Doren was fired from Today and Columbia's Board of Trustees was planning to ask for his resignation
  • Herb's words to a reporter outside the sub-committee hearing after Van Doren's testimony: "You know what the problem with you bums is? You can never leave a guy alone, unless you're leavin' him alone"; Goodwin worried about the effects of Van Doren's testimony: "l thought we were gonna get television. The truth is, television is gonna get us"
  • Enright and Freedman took the fall; Enright admitted under oath to the sub-committee that he had helped rig the shows via media manipulation for entertainment's sake: "Yes, we did one thing wrong. We were too successful...The sponsor makes out, the network makes out, the contestants see money they probably would never see in a lifetime and the public is entertained. So who gets hurt?"; Freedman also confessed to being guilty and added: "Give the public what they's entertainment. We're not exactly hardened criminals here. We're, we're in show business"
  • the film's ending - capped by subtle, accusatory, slow-motion end credits showing a late 50s television audience mindlessly laughing and applauding ('watching the money' so to speak) as Lyle Lovett's somber "Moritat (Mack the Knife)" played

Car Radio Broadcast About Sputnik

Nightly TV Broadcast From Rockefeller Center

Geritol Commercial

Regarding Herb: "Now there's a face for radio"

Charles Van Doren
(Ralph Fiennes)

Lured onto the Show: "I'm just trying to imagine what Kant would make of this"

Freedman: "I don't think he'd have a problem with it"

Van Doren Convinced to Be an Honest Contestant (Enright: "So pure, it floats")

Herb's 'Dive' Question: "Which motion picture won the Academy Award for 1955?"

Van Doren's Winning Answer: "General Halleck"

Van Doren's Dizzying Reaction

"An egghead turned national hero"

Grand Jury Probe

Acclaim and Fame for Van Doren

Herb - Spiteful and Angry ("That should be me on the cover of Time")

Goodwin ("We're gonna put television on trial")

Student Adulation for Van Doren at Columbia

Charles' Father: Shakespearean Quotes Quiz Game Against Son

Herb: "I know he got the answers...because I got the answers"

Van Doren: "The word is 'bluffing'"

Goodwin's Tale to Charles: "It was 'the getting away with it' part he couldn't live with"

Charles' Father Incredulous Reaction: "They gave you the answers!"

Van Doren's Climactic House Sub-Committee Testimony

End Credits


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