47 Great Movie Moments #32 – Quiz Show

After a bit of an absence, we are trying to continue with this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?).  To my surprise, these are harder to think of than I thought.  Anyway, today, for #32, we hit a film by Robert Redford that I almost had something to do with!

Quiz Show (1994)

Directed by:  Robert Redford

Scandal breaks out in the 1950’s when it comes to light that the game shows that are popular in the burgeoning television industry are sometimes fixed.  Two contestants in particular, the awkward, unpleasant Herbert Stempel and the refined, cultured Charles van Doren are at the heart of this.

The Set-up

Congressional investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) is suspicious that Charles van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), in spite of his apparent life of privilege and overall social advantages, has cheated during his record-breaking run on the TV game show, Twenty-One.  In the process of his work, Goodwin has become friends with Charles van Doren, and spends time with him on a number of social occasions.

The Moment

Dick plays poker with Charles and some of his friends.  The banter is friendly but also layered:  Charles laughs off Dick’s suspicions about Twenty-One.  Dick tests Charles’ knowledge with a series of questions about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and Charles quietly enjoys showing off his intellect.  The other players push to get back to the game, and soon it comes down to Charles and Dick.  Dick stares at Charles and says, “I know you’re lying.”

Charles is taken aback.  Dick stares at him.

“Bluffing.  The word is bluffing.”

Dick stares at him a bit longer.

Then he drops his cards and completely changes his demeanor.

“Too rich for my blood.”

The Payoff

The guilt and shame way heavily on Charles’ shoulders, but he is unable to truly come clean about what he is doing.  Eventually, he decides to “throw” his game, losing on purpose to get out of the situation.  But then he allows himself to be further “bought” by taking a job as a TV presenter, a situation that continues until he is exposed and suffers inestimable embarrassment.
Personal Note:
I forgot to include this when I first posted, but when I mention I almost had something to do with the movie, what I meant was that apparently the filmmakers contacted my home church in New York to see if it was available as a possible location for the movie–playing the Van Doren family home in the country.  My pastor took the call but had to decline, since he didn’t think there was anyone who would have been available to act as a warden for the church, keeping an eye on the building while the film crew was using it.  Only after he got off the phone did he think of me, a recent film graduate looking for work in the industry at the time.  Now, as it happens, I was working at a super low-budget TV show in New York City at the time, so I probably would have declined.  But with the benefit of hindsight, I might have enjoyed being on the set of Quiz Show more than I did the job itself (though I did once get to interview George Takei for an extended period of time).  Anyway, that’s my “near brush with fame” as far as Quiz Show is concerned.

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