Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. “Quiz Show” at 25: The ’50s on Trial

 

If you weren’t even alive back then, you’ve probably seen the black-and-white footage, some of the best-known images of early television. Two men stand isolated under the hot lights, answering questions, trying not to show the pressure. The graceful, elegant one from New England is the scion of one of America’s most famous families; the other one, a decent but unattractive man, a hard-working “grind” who rose from the lower middle class, is the smarter of the two, but he’s already sweating, feeling hopelessly outclassed. A trick question has caught him—he’s not allowed to give the correct answer! His anger rises; but he dutifully, bitterly keeps his mouth shut. He plays along for what he thinks is the good of the system, even if it means his defeat. But enough about the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960.

There’s an overlooked twist of history here, and we’ll get back to it at the end of our story. “Quiz Show” (1994) takes you back to the adolescence of American television. The film is based on the real-life scandal that engulfed the big-money quiz shows in 1959.

The movie begins with meeting a main character and hearing a radio broadcast, the eerie beeping of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, as heard on a car radio on the night it was launched, October 4, 1957. This anchors “Quiz Show,” the movie, in a critique of American values that feels compelling, but is vaguer the closer you get to it; does the omniscient filmmaker want us to look down on America, the inept, because Eisenhower “let” the Soviets get a satellite into space first? If not, why the ominous faces and the air of foreboding? Or, on the other hand, are we supposed to look down on America, the paranoid, because people cared whether or not the Soviets got into space first? They can’t both be equally true and culpable indictments of national character. What’s the connection to the quiz show scandals, other than a sense of moral let-down? Yet it’s a captivating portrait of the ‘50s that you should see, if you haven’t already.

After that prelude at a strangely dreamlike Chrysler dealership, the credit scene, with its bouncy “Mack the Knife” soundtrack, is the audience’s real introduction to the world that the story takes place in. Those carefully chosen pieces of 1957 Manhattan are beautiful. “Quiz Show” really begins with a mere trickle of action, two men handling an envelope of Twenty One’s questions and answers in a safe deposit vault, and with each, shot the action speeds up and involves more and more people. With each escalation, Bobby Darin’s song seems to jump a half-tone. Look at the exciting, terribly unrealistic way the armored truck careens around the corner at Rockefeller Center, moving so fast that excited pedestrians are dashing to safety in front of the camera, partly blocking the picture like a newsreel that can’t fully control the background action. Now the envelope, whose journey began in immobility and silence, is carried through screaming crowds and up in the 30 Rock elevators to a nationwide TV broadcast.

The rest of the opening of the film has a montage of people, from all walks of life and from every region of the country, sitting down and getting ready to watch “Twenty One,” even as we’ve just seen the performers strain to present it. Papa brings in the popcorn, a row of noisy kids squirm into place; elsewhere, a couch full of nuns smile and nod as the kettle drums bring up the theme music and the show goes on the air live and coast to coast. This truly is the magic of network television, tying together a diverse nation, and the postwar romance between America and TV has rarely been depicted so well on film.

There are plenty of points of exchange between the real worlds of film and television (talent and profit come to mind), and plenty of TV jokes in the movies. There are certainly movies that have television shows as their models. But there hasn’t been much done on the simple miracle of coast-to-coast national television. It’s been around for so long we take it for granted.

The TV studio and control room scenes of the “Twenty One” TV show are superbly done with the feel of a live production. The colors and styles, touchingly naïve and exotic to present-day jaded eyes, are authentic; this is what the ’50s actually looked like. At this point we enter the world of live actors and the narrative. Like the “Eye of the Tiger” montage in “Rocky III,” it’s a great way for title credits to take you right into the excitement as the scripted story begins with schlubby quiz champion Herbert Stempel, blissfully unaware of what we already know: the show is already scripting his downfall.

This is one of the only modern films about the 1950s that treats its subject fairly, without condescension. It’s a rare privilege to be able to bestow that “without condescension” label on Robert Redford, who in other respects is a quintessential NPR left-liberal. Because he gave a relatively positive vision of one glamorous aspect of postwar America the respect it deserves, we owe Redford something in return; a serious, respectful consideration of his broad, overarching theme of national moral decline. It’s like “Godfather II” (1974), a reasonable criticism of those times, not a political hatchet job like “The Front” (1976), “Guilty By Suspicion” (1991), or even 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

It’s to Redford’s credit that congressional investigator Richard Goodwin, his crusading liberal hero, is also human, self-serving and fallible: his attempt to steer the Congress’s hearings into high-minded abstractions like “we’re going to get television,” or “we’re going after the advertisers” devolves into the kind of attacks on the “little people” that Goodwin wanted to avoid. Flinching in the clinch, Goodwin nervously waffles in his one “confrontation” with NBC boss Robert Kintner at the doors of an NBC elevator. Only in his relationship with cheating contestant Charles Van Doren, a young Ivy League intellectual like he, is Goodwin confidently dealing with someone he’d see as a social and intellectual equal, and Goodwin’s then-wife correctly calls him out on it.

Movies like “Pleasantville” (1996), “True Confessions” (1981), and a host of others make the ’50s look like a woman-hating nightmare. The understated bits of feminism in “Quiz Show,” by contrast, are funny and poignant, like the way that unmarried women are constantly asking if Charles Van Doren is engaged. That sympathy is undermined by the way the movie treats Herbert Stempel’s wife. It’s an ugly caricature that, to Redford’s discredit, is supposed to be funny. Having lived in Queens, I can say that Robert Redford’s portrayal of the old neighborhoods even in the ‘50s would be insulting if it weren’t so silly. But the movie is good at the subtle portrayal of relations between Jewish people at different levels of assimilation (Goodwin and Stempel) and between academic Jews and Gentiles (Goodwin and Van Doren), which has the real feel of the ’50s. I enjoyed the knowing intimacy of enemies Stempel and Van Doren when Stempel suddenly and correctly intuited that the supposedly high-minded hero Van Doren was going to take the dive just as he did.

Goodwin’s other big would-be confrontation of an industry big shot also doesn’t come off the way he plans. This is a great two-man scene with Martin Scorsese playing the chairman of Pharmaceuticals, Inc, makers of Geritol and sponsors of “Twenty One.” Scorsese’s character, while much too shrewd to be caught admitting anything, surprisingly doesn’t seem to deny anything, either; he’s much more direct and honest than the other “villains” of the story. He doesn’t insult Goodwin’s intelligence or ours. More than any other scene in the film, he calmly lays out what the reality of the so-called “scandal” is, and how doing the very same things a slightly different way will soon no longer be perceived as scandalous. Far from being threatening, on a personal level he sounds solicitous: “You’re a smart young man with a bright future.” As in, don’t screw it up.

One of the glories of “Quiz Show” is the measured, ironic way that even its good guys are drawn into manipulations that echo the illegal showmanship of its bad guys. “Quiz Show” shows you these obvious ironies, and assumes that you’re smart enough to see them without being hit with a sledgehammer. This regard for the audience’s intelligence is part of what elevates this film above the ordinary.

To enjoy “Quiz Show,” you have to tolerate Robert Redford’s occasional need to tie all sorts of character flaws and shortcomings to his widely-shared notions about national flaws. If he wittily uses Bobby Darin’s version of “Mack the Knife” to open the film with a jaunty sense of ’50s America on the make, his use of the dirge-like Kurt Weill/Lotte Lenya original at the end of the film feels artier, more forced. A friend of mine, Hollywood Reporter film critic David Hunter, said in his review that from the Left’s perspective, “Quiz Show” aspired towards an anti-big-business feel, but it needed to borrow Weill’s sour, left-wing anthem to stiffen its own sentimental spine.

And yet, think of those happy nuns in the background behind the credits, crowding each other on the couch in anticipation of another exciting round of “Twenty One.” Liberals once knew how to reach those people. The guy who became famous playing the All American Boy-with-a-Fatal-Flaw is smart enough to know that there are various levels of shock and innocence, and at those national moments when the mainstream entertains doubt about the American project, Redford was ready to meet that mainstream; few other aggressively progressive filmmakers have even tried. Yet, the making of this film conceals an irony about power and arrogance.

I was curious about something I’d read long ago about a mysterious dispute between Robert Redford and the director originally announced for “Quiz Show,” Steven Soderbergh, the fledgling writer-director whose flashy 1989 “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” changed the commercial potential of Redford’s pet project, the Sundance Film Festival, doing more than any other single film to put it on the VIP must-go map forever, or at least “forever” as Hollywood defines it (roughly twenty or more years). I checked this out on the web. Yeah, Soderbergh and Redford were David and Goliath, Industry-wise; it was kind of funny how it resembled some aspects of “Quiz Show,” the movie.

Soderbergh is an appealing witness, much franker than his opponent in this case, the remote and imperial Redford, who at this time had been the biggest male movie star in the world for the previous twenty years. I was amused by the decidedly un-Adonis-like Soderbergh’s self-deprecation in his account of the unequal struggle over the picture. His words seemed to modestly echo the voice of the unfashionable Herbie Stempel in his hopeless duel with the handsome, famous, and favored Charles Van Doren. Soderbergh’s big success gave Redford and Sundance the idea that they should somehow both nurture and profit from the career growth of their “discoveries.” Though that attitude would have seemed perfectly natural at, say, MGM in 1938, it wasn’t a natural fit for the communitarian, band-of-brothers rhetoric of the Indie world. Redford felt impatient or slighted by Soderbergh’s pre-existing projects at studios, so he used the delays as an excuse to replace him, to take over the project for himself.

Like Herb Stempel, Steven Soderbergh could legitimately throw the inside punch that the huge public fad for the big boss’s Sundance Film Festival is due in large part to the public enthusiasm for the kid’s own appealing success story. Sure, they made him, but he also helped make them.

Quentin Tarantino was the next big young star director after Soderbergh began to get balky and, to Redford, ungrateful. Quentin’s sort of a lucky Charles Van Doren of the piece as he became wildly successful in 1994 with “Pulp Fiction,” making vastly more money even than “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Miramax’s pioneering success in marketing Sundance movies into “ordinary” multiplexes that seldom if ever showed art films before set a lucrative pattern for the Nineties. It would make Harvey Weinstein’s upstart studio enormously rich and influential, especially at Oscar times. Meanwhile, former Sundance golden boy Steve Soderbergh seethed with perceived injustice while standing on line outside a theater playing “Quiz Show.”

If the famous prizewinner of “Sex, Lies and Videotape” were to turn, Stempel-style, against the Sundance festival as a bunch of bloodsuckers and exploiters it would be big news—and that’s what happened, as he later publicly “defected” to Sundance’s nervy, pint-sized rival, Slamdance, as being the kind of idealistic People’s Film Festival that Sundance merely pretended to be. That really made it sting for Redford. (Er, so to speak.)

Finally, real life provided a higher level of irony to this tale of establishment corruption. (If I make accusations, it’s dangerous. If I make observations, it’s merely Aaron Sorkin.) Remember, in the opening, my none-too-subtle hint that Kennedy-Nixon debates were, in effect, “Quiz Show” in real life, played for the highest stakes? In that first-ever televised debate, Vice President Richard Nixon was asked a question about secret US plans to invade Cuba. Prudently and patriotically, he knew he couldn’t give the real answer. He knew Senator John F. Kennedy had been informed about the program in CIA briefings, but on the air, JFK used the issue against Nixon anyway, portraying him as weak on Castro. This was, Nixon said later, the only time in the entire campaign when he was personally furious with Kennedy, who was once a personal friend.

The name of the guy who knowingly slipped JFK the unanswerable question was … Richard Goodwin. Yep, the same: The Democratic political aide Goodwin who got his start as a staff lawyer investigating a suspicious run of quiz show winners on TV. His (allegedly) non-fiction account about his own heroism during those months in the spotlight became this Robert Redford production about flawed character among the ranks of America’s high and mighty. See any hypocrisy here?

Over the decades, Goodwin turned into a real-life version of brilliant and honored Ivy League academic Mark Van Doren, Charles’s dad, the very embodiment of the northeastern intellectual establishment. Richard Goodwin is married to Doris Kearns Goodwin and is famed far and wide as a Kennedy aide as well as a historian.

Goodwin enjoys telling an oft-reported story about John F. Kennedy inviting him and one of his debate colleagues onto his yacht afterwards. He imitates the president’s Boston accent: “If I win this (election), I won it; but if I lose it, you guys lost it.” This seems to give Goodwin no particular pangs of conscience regarding Nixon or the nation.

You could even see him as his one-time opponent: the intimidatingly well-connected guy that Scorsese played, a smooth, genial establishment figure who admits everything with an indifferent shrug and a friendly, condescending smile: Sure, you got the story, now go ahead and try to get anyone to care.

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There are 34 comments.

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  1. Jimmy Carter Member

    Gary McVey: Richard Goodwin is married to Doris Kearns Goodwin [plagiarist]

    • #1
    • November 4, 2019, at 11:06 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member

    Gary McVey: The name of the guy who knowingly slipped JFK the unanswerable question was…Richard Goodwin. Yep, the same: The Democratic political aide Goodwin who got his start as a staff lawyer investigating a suspicious run of quiz show winners on TV.

    Wow – what a great story.

    Unreal.

    • #2
    • November 4, 2019, at 11:34 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: The name of the guy who knowingly slipped JFK the unanswerable question was…Richard Goodwin. Yep, the same: The Democratic political aide Goodwin who got his start as a staff lawyer investigating a suspicious run of quiz show winners on TV.

    Wow – what a great story.

    Unreal.

    Thanks, Dr. B. The weird thing is, none of the facts were hidden; nobody wanted to connect the dots. 

    • #3
    • November 4, 2019, at 11:42 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    The real look of the Fifties–confident, bold and colorful. Not a drab, dreary, inhibited place. 

     

    • #4
    • November 4, 2019, at 11:46 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  5. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Interesting that when the quiz show scandal broke, American TV viewers would have been associating the dirge-like original version of “Mack the Knife” with … comedy, because Ernie Kovacs was using it as the music for his blackout bits on his TV shows of the era. Redford was just breaking into television at the time, so he was old enough to know of the association, but I’m not sure if it was something he recalled when “Quiz Show” was made.

    • #5
    • November 4, 2019, at 12:09 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Brian Watt Member

    Brilliant essay and good to know about the direct connection with Goodwin’s and “Tricky” Jack. That certainly takes the heroic characterization that Redford gave to him down a peg or two.

    Quiz Show is fascinating to watch for the great ensemble and the brilliant writing and it was such a treat to see Paul Scofield again in another superb performance.

    • #6
    • November 4, 2019, at 12:14 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  7. EJHill Podcaster

    Amazingly, the run of agency block-buy sponsor-supplied programming on network television didn’t end until 2014 when Crown Media announced that The Hallmark Hall of Fame would air exclusively on their own cable channel. That ended a 63-year run.

    In its last days on the networks (and HHoF would air on all three legacy networks and one season on PBS) it would almost be jarring at the end with its full run of credits. By now we just accept that “credits” are what flashes before us at 10-frame intervals while promos take up the rest of the screen.

    As for Twenty-One it killed the careers for producers Jack Barry and Dan Enright. Their road back was slow and painful. Enright produced a game show for ABC in 1967, Everybody’s Talking, but would receive no on-screen credit as he was still considered damaged goods. Barry would not get back in front of the camera until two years after that. They finally reformed their partnership in the 1970’s and would have a good run with Joker’s Wild until Barry’s fatal heart attack in 1984. That show limped along for two years with new host Bill Cullen before cancellation. Enright passed in 1992.

    Charles Van Doren passed this February at age 93. He became an author and an editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Herb Stemple is still alive and retired from the Transportation Department of the City of New York. He remained silent on the scandal for 30 years before agreeing to be interviewed for The American Experience on PBS. He has a cameo in the film.

     

    • #7
    • November 4, 2019, at 12:36 PM PST
    • 17 likes
  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    Brilliant essay and good to know about the direction connection with Goodwin’s and “Tricky” Jack. That certainly takes the heroic characterization that Redford gave to him down a peg or two.

    Quiz Show is fascinating to watch for the great ensemble and the brilliant writing and it was such a treat to see Paul Scofield again in another superb performance.

    There are so many clever parts of the script that turn out to be more than clever, actually meaningful, and all sorts of dramatic echoes, too: the way Stempel, sitting in his bathrobe, tutors his young son and the Van Dorens, father and son, relate to each other. Fiennes and Scofield both have excellent American accents, but it was a shrewd choice having them played by British actors, reinforcing the impression that these men are, in effect, American aristocrats, at least of the mind. It’s hard to overstate how big a deal Charles Van Doren became after his run on “Twenty One”; Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy” times a hundred. The country was shocked by Sputnik and intellectuals briefly became heroes, the guys who’d lead us back to the top. 

    • #8
    • November 4, 2019, at 12:36 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Amazingly, the run of agency block-buy sponsor-supplied programming on network television didn’t end until 2014 when Crown Media announced that The Hallmark Hall of Fame would air exclusively on their own cable channel. That ended a 63-year run.

    In its last days on the networks (and HHoF would air on all three legacy networks and one season on PBS) it would almost be jarring at the end with its full run of credits. By now we just accept that “credits” are what flashes before us at 10-frame intervals while promos take up the rest of the screen.

    As for Twenty-One it killed the careers for producers Jack Barry and Dan Enright. Their road back was slow and painful. Enright produced a game show for ABC in 1967, Everybody’s Talking, but would receive no on-screen credit as he was still considered damaged goods. Barry would not get back in front of the camera until two years after that. They finally reformed their partnership in the 1970’s and would have a good run with Joker’s Wild until Barry’s fatal heart attack in 1984. That show limped along for two years with new host Bill Cullen before cancellation. Enright passed in 1992.

    Charles Van Doren passed this February at age 93. He became an author and an editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Herb Stemple is still alive and retired from the Transportation Department of the City of New York. He remained silent on the scandal for 30 years before agreeing to be interviewed for The American Experience on PBS. He has a cameo in the film.

     

    Van Doren shied away from publicity when “Quiz Show” was released–it doesn’t exactly show him in the best light–but in 2008 he wrote an essay about his experiences for The New Yorker. It doesn’t wildly contradict anything we see in the movie, which takes reasonable liberties with compressing the timeline of the real story. It admits that, far from the brief period of moral struggle depicted in Redford’s film, Van Doren accepted the overall crookedness of the show right from the beginning. It also reveals a dismissive attitude towards Stempel that is, at the least, unattractive and ungracious, but it must be said that Stempel didn’t exactly do him any favors (nor should he have). 

    • #9
    • November 4, 2019, at 12:46 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. Hang On Member

    Gary McVey: This anchors “Quiz Show”, the movie, in a critique of American values that feels compelling, but is vaguer the closer you get to it; does the omniscient filmmaker want us to look down on America, the inept, because Eisenhower “let” the Soviets get a satellite into space first? If not, why the ominous faces and the air of foreboding? Or, on the other hand, are we supposed to look down on America, the paranoid, because people cared whether or not the Soviets got into space first? They can’t both be equally true and culpable indictments of national character. What’s the connection to the quiz show scandals, other than a sense of moral let-down? Yet it’s a captivating portrait of the ‘50s that you should see, if you haven’t already.

    Nothing to do with safety, redundant systems (for safety), public visibility of failure if first launch failed. Price you pay for an open system. And their Germans beat our Germans into space first. But our Germans beat their Germans to the moon. Which brings the irony of Mackie Messer – our version is better (whether Bobby Darin or Louis Armstrong) than their version. Don’t you love cultural appropriation? I do. It’s really cool. It’s how civilization progresses.

    But the Germans did a much better version of weaving it into a good piece of television drama in Babylon Berlin during the failed coup/assassination attempt against Briand/Stresemann scene. And Briand’s reaction to the German version is priceless.

    Considering the national security implications of being able to target missiles, not being somewhat paranoid about Sputnick would be extreme foolishness. Occupying the highest elevation is military strategy point number one.

    Gary McVey: Maybe you weren’t even alive back then, but you’ve probably seen the black and white footage, some of the best-known images of early television. Two men stand isolated under the hot lights, answering questions, trying not to show the pressure. The graceful, elegant one from New England is scion of one of America’s most famous families; the other one, a decent but unattractive man, a hard-working “grind” who rose from the lower middle class, is actually the smarter of the two, but he’s already sweating, feeling hopelessly outclassed. A trick question has caught him—he’s not allowed to give the correct answer! His anger rises; but he dutifully, bitterly keeps his mouth shut. He plays along for what he thinks is the good of the system, even if it means his personal defeat. But enough about the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960.

    That cracked me up. Brilliant!

    • #10
    • November 4, 2019, at 1:10 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  11. dnewlander Member

    Maybe I’m just uncouth, but I found Quiz Show incredibly boring when I saw it twenty-five years ago.

    • #11
    • November 4, 2019, at 2:29 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    I thought Quiz Show was one of the best films of the 90s! Say what you want about Robert Redford (lord knows I’ve said plenty,) but he is one helluva filmmaker!

    • #12
    • November 4, 2019, at 3:47 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  13. EJHill Podcaster

    dnewlander: Maybe I’m just uncouth, but I found Quiz Show incredibly boring when I saw it twenty-five years ago.

    TV people appreciate it because as a rule we deliberately avoid realistic portrayals of ourselves. Part of that stems from two radio broadcasts, one you’ve probably heard of, one you probably have not. The easy one is “The War of the Worlds” from Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater. The other is The March of Time, produced by Time Magazine it did dramatic recreations of news events of the week. It was not without controversy – even Roosevelt complained that the actors imitating (including Art Carney) some times sounded too much like him.

    • #13
    • November 4, 2019, at 4:13 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    Great essay, Gary. 

    Please note that I am wildly understating how great it is with this comment.

    • #14
    • November 4, 2019, at 5:56 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    I thought Quiz Show was one of the best films of the 90s! Say what you want about Robert Redford (lord knows I’ve said plenty,) but he is one helluva filmmaker!

    A couple of other films in roughly that time period about US history were also pretty good. Some examples: “Glory” (1987), “Apollo 13” (1995) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1997) each made an impact on public opinion. Critics are divided on their merits as movies, and I could pick some points to argue about with each one of them. From the conservative viewpoint, I disagree with parts of “Ryan” in particular, and “Glory” is not as true to the real facts as, say, “Gettysburg”, but each one is serious, well crafted, and broadly patriotic. They affected the public’s view of real history, not just film history. 

    • #15
    • November 4, 2019, at 6:04 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  16. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Maybe I’m just uncouth, but I found Quiz Show incredibly boring when I saw it twenty-five years ago.

    Not uncouth at all; as a Roman said, there’s no accounting in matters of taste. (Which Roman? I think it was Dean Martin.) I’ve never liked “Pulp Fiction” or “The Big Lebowski”, which causes slack jawed stares of incomprehension from people. 

    • #16
    • November 4, 2019, at 6:07 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Which brings the irony of Mackie Messer – our version is better (whether Bobby Darin or Louis Armstrong) than their version. Don’t you love cultural appropriation? I do. It’s really cool. It’s how civilization progresses.

    Englishman Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen had a huge hit in 1961 with their version of the Russian traditional, Moscow Nights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o744d4mwOgQ

    And the Germans did a great version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOLT-1Gzdu8

     

    • #17
    • November 4, 2019, at 6:12 PM PST
    • Like
  18. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    MACHO GRANDE' (aka – Chri… (View Comment):

    Great essay, Gary.

    Please note that I am wildly understating how great it is with this comment.

    Well, jeez, Macho, don’t hold back! Thanks a lot. If I’d just stuck with the film review, it could have been only two thirds as long, but the irony of Redford (who I think did a great job) being something of an exploiter himself, and the irony of “hero” Goodwin being the bad guy for much higher stakes in 1960 was too good to pass up. 

    • #18
    • November 4, 2019, at 6:16 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  19. Percival Thatcher

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    I thought Quiz Show was one of the best films of the 90s! Say what you want about Robert Redford (lord knows I’ve said plenty,) but he is one helluva filmmaker!

    A couple of other films in roughly that time period about US history were also pretty good. Some examples: “Glory” (1987), “Apollo 13” (1995) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1997) each made an impact on public opinion. Critics are divided on their merits as movies, and I could pick some points to argue about with each one of them. From the conservative viewpoint, I disagree with parts of “Ryan” in particular, and “Glory” is not as true to the real facts as, say, “Gettysburg”, but each one is serious, well crafted, and broadly patriotic. They affected the public’s view of real history, not just film history.

    Gettysburg was great. Only problem was the extras for the two sides were a trifle … ah … middle aged for the most part. But at least they didn’t need much coaching.

    And as far as Ryan goes, the invasion of Europe wouldn’t have been as costly if the real Germans had been that tactically inept.

    • #19
    • November 4, 2019, at 7:16 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    I thought Quiz Show was one of the best films of the 90s! Say what you want about Robert Redford (lord knows I’ve said plenty,) but he is one helluva filmmaker!

    A couple of other films in roughly that time period about US history were also pretty good. Some examples: “Glory” (1987), “Apollo 13” (1995) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1997) each made an impact on public opinion. Critics are divided on their merits as movies, and I could pick some points to argue about with each one of them. From the conservative viewpoint, I disagree with parts of “Ryan” in particular, and “Glory” is not as true to the real facts as, say, “Gettysburg”, but each one is serious, well crafted, and broadly patriotic. They affected the public’s view of real history, not just film history.

    Gettysburg was great. Only problem was the extras for the two sides were a trifle … ah … middle aged for the most part. But at least they didn’t need much coaching.

    And as far as Ryan goes, the invasion of Europe wouldn’t have been as costly if the real Germans had been that tactically inept.

    History, like women’s hairstyles, is something that almost always is at least slightly tilted towards the concerns of the present, when the movie was made. That’s normal, and to a degree useful in getting younger viewers to understand the past. “Back to the Future”, in its own enjoyable, utterly unpretentious way, tells more truths about the feelings and attitudes of the Fifties than the vast majority of righteous liberal condemnations of the period, and one of the reasons why is the way it demonstrates that even Mom and Dad are human, and so were the times they lived in. 

    (BTW, BTTF writer Bob Gale is a stone cold, diamond-hard conservative. When he served on “my” board (the American Cinema Foundation), I liked and admired him, not least because unlike the majority of Hollywood big shots, he parked his own car on the street, not valet parked it, at fancy social events. Not because (like some specialty car owners out here) he didn’t trust anyone else to not scratch the paint, but because he wasn’t going to pay $8 for something that was free. My kind of guy.)

    But movies are dishonest if everything is re-interpreted in light of the present. (“Why were there no Black astronauts in 1961? We know why, don’t we? How come FDR didn’t appoint Amelia Earhart in charge of the Army Air Corps in 1933? If Eleanor was bisexual, why didn’t she just announce it during one of her husband’s fireside chats? Hah?”)

    • #20
    • November 4, 2019, at 8:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Steve C. Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Which brings the irony of Mackie Messer – our version is better (whether Bobby Darin or Louis Armstrong) than their version. Don’t you love cultural appropriation? I do. It’s really cool. It’s how civilization progresses.

    Englishman Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen had a huge hit in 1961 with their version of the Russian traditional, Moscow Nights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o744d4mwOgQ

    And the Germans did a great version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOLT-1Gzdu8

    I like this one

    • #21
    • November 4, 2019, at 8:27 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. Steve C. Member

    Gary McVey: even 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

    I come for the history but stay for the snark.

    • #22
    • November 4, 2019, at 8:29 PM PST
    • 1 like
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: even 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

    I come for the history but stay for the snark.

    Yeah, Indy was disgusted by the rigid conformity and fanatical McCarthyism of…an Ivy League college in 1955. If he was really so repelled by rigid conformity, he’s lucky he didn’t make it to 2019. 

    • #23
    • November 4, 2019, at 8:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  24. James Lileks Contributor

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    History, like women’s hairstyles, is something that almost always is at least slightly tilted towards the concerns of the present, when the movie was made. That’s normal, and to a degree useful in getting younger viewers to understand the past. “Back to the Future”, in its own enjoyable, utterly unpretentious way, tells more truths about the feelings and attitudes of the Fifties than the vast majority of righteous liberal condemnations of the period, and one of the reasons why is the way it demonstrates that even Mom and Dad are human, and so were the times they lived in. 

    Agreed, and I’d add Francis Ford Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” which is played more broadly, but has obvious affection for the era. The scene where she goes home after school – a grown woman now inhabiting the life of her teen self, seeing all the normal every day things she knows have been lost forever – is just beautiful, and when John Barry pours it on I get sloppy and verklempt. 

    • #24
    • November 4, 2019, at 9:03 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    I thought Quiz Show was one of the best films of the 90s! Say what you want about Robert Redford (lord knows I’ve said plenty,) but he is one helluva filmmaker!

    A couple of other films in roughly that time period about US history were also pretty good. Some examples: “Glory” (1987), “Apollo 13” (1995) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1997) each made an impact on public opinion. Critics are divided on their merits as movies, and I could pick some points to argue about with each one of them. From the conservative viewpoint, I disagree with parts of “Ryan” in particular, and “Glory” is not as true to the real facts as, say, “Gettysburg”, but each one is serious, well crafted, and broadly patriotic. They affected the public’s view of real history, not just film history.

    Glory was a much better film than Gettysburg. Gettysburg, like Glory, featured its own share of myths.

    • #25
    • November 4, 2019, at 9:10 PM PST
    • 1 like
  26. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    This gets at something I’ve noticed for nearly my entire adult life (two thirds of a century): liberals just hate the Fifties, but everyone else loves the decade, even if they’ve only seen the movies and the cars. In some ways, it’s baffling: liberals should have loved the Fifties too: the real beginnings of a national civil rights movement, independent career women in the workplace, families finally getting the highways, TV sets, and suburban homes that FDR promised for after the war. What’s not to like? To the libs, almost everything. Tail fins, pointy bras, and high heeled shoes symbolize, for them, a tacky, vacuous era when the country avoided its flaws and problems. But magically, if Adlai Stevenson had won the 1952 and 1956 elections, those, ah, pointy symbols would have been signs of America’s soaring aspirations. 

    That’s the hidden factor, ED: Electoral Disfunction. Liberals expected that the example of FDR, a successful conclusion to WWII, and the “so obviously beneficial” effects of wartime control of just about everything would have the same positive influence on domestic policy that the new United Nations would have on foreign policy. And then, the country turned its backs on them. They saw themselves as America’s unfairly jilted lovers. America saw the left as its unhinged stalkers. The anger, the shame, the humiliation on the left lingers to this day, even after subsequent decades of getting so much their way. 

    • #26
    • November 4, 2019, at 9:27 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  27. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    What a fantastic review and story.

    I’ll admit it: I’d MUCH rather read Gary’s analysis and insights than watch any of the actual movies he reviews. I learn more this way, and save time. Besides, this post is truly engrossing!

    • #27
    • November 4, 2019, at 9:43 PM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Jon1979 Lincoln

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    History, like women’s hairstyles, is something that almost always is at least slightly tilted towards the concerns of the present, when the movie was made. That’s normal, and to a degree useful in getting younger viewers to understand the past. “Back to the Future”, in its own enjoyable, utterly unpretentious way, tells more truths about the feelings and attitudes of the Fifties than the vast majority of righteous liberal condemnations of the period, and one of the reasons why is the way it demonstrates that even Mom and Dad are human, and so were the times they lived in.

    Agreed, and I’d add Francis Ford Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” which is played more broadly, but has obvious affection for the era. The scene where she goes home after school – a grown woman now inhabiting the life of her teen self, seeing all the normal every day things she knows have been lost forever – is just beautiful, and when John Barry pours it on I get sloppy and verklempt.

    Richard Benjamin’s “My Favorite Year”, based on Mel Brooks’ experience working on “Your Show of Shows” also has an affection for both the time period of the 1950s and the TV broadcasting of the era.

    • #28
    • November 4, 2019, at 10:40 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  29. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    This gets at something I’ve noticed for nearly my entire adult life (two thirds of a century): liberals just hate the Fifties, but everyone else loves the decade, even if they’ve only seen the movies and the cars. In some ways, it’s baffling: liberals should have loved the Fifties too: the real beginnings of a national civil rights movement, independent career women in the workplace, families finally getting the highways, TV sets, and suburban homes that FDR promised for after the war. What’s not to like? To the libs, almost everything. Tail fins, pointy bras, and high heeled shoes symbolize, for them, a tacky, vacuous era when the country avoided its flaws and problems. But magically, if Adlai Stevenson had won the 1952 and 1956 elections, those, ah, pointy symbols would have been signs of America’s soaring aspirations.

    That’s the hidden factor, ED: Electoral Disfunction. Liberals expected that the example of FDR, a successful conclusion to WWII, and the “so obviously beneficial” effects of wartime control of just about everything would have the same positive influence on domestic policy that the new United Nations would have on foreign policy. And then, the country turned its backs on them. They saw themselves as America’s unfairly jilted lovers. America saw the left as its unhinged stalkers. The anger, the shame, the humiliation on the left lingers to this day, even after subsequent decades of getting so much their way.

    Plus. unlike all the GOP presidents and candidates who followed, both the Democrats and the media of the day were befuddled on how to really go after Ike, given that everyone voting could remember back a decade to World War II. They mainly tried to snipe around the edges that he was befuddled and past his prime, but even then couldn’t go after him full-bore on the health issue following his heart attack in the run-up to the 1956 election season. But what frustration they had over not being able to attack Eisenhower would be redirected at Nixon.

    • #29
    • November 4, 2019, at 10:46 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  30. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Post author

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    This gets at something I’ve noticed for nearly my entire adult life (two thirds of a century): liberals just hate the Fifties, but everyone else loves the decade, even if they’ve only seen the movies and the cars. In some ways, it’s baffling: liberals should have loved the Fifties too: the real beginnings of a national civil rights movement, independent career women in the workplace, families finally getting the highways, TV sets, and suburban homes that FDR promised for after the war. What’s not to like? To the libs, almost everything. Tail fins, pointy bras, and high heeled shoes symbolize, for them, a tacky, vacuous era when the country avoided its flaws and problems. But magically, if Adlai Stevenson had won the 1952 and 1956 elections, those, ah, pointy symbols would have been signs of America’s soaring aspirations.

    That’s the hidden factor, ED: Electoral Disfunction. Liberals expected that the example of FDR, a successful conclusion to WWII, and the “so obviously beneficial” effects of wartime control of just about everything would have the same positive influence on domestic policy that the new United Nations would have on foreign policy. And then, the country turned its backs on them. They saw themselves as America’s unfairly jilted lovers. America saw the left as its unhinged stalkers. The anger, the shame, the humiliation on the left lingers to this day, even after subsequent decades of getting so much their way.

    Plus. unlike all the GOP presidents and candidates who followed, both the Democrats and the media of the day were befuddled on how to really go after Ike, given that everyone voting could remember back a decade to World War II. They mainly tried to snipe around the edges that he was befuddled and past his prime, but even then couldn’t go after him full-bore on the health issue following his heart attack in the run-up to the 1956 election season. But what frustration they had over not being able to attack Eisenhower would be redirected at Nixon.

    And like Reagan would be twenty-plus years later, Eisenhower was simultaneously regarded as an amiable dunce and an unfortunately popular, one of a kind accident at the polls; the thought that much of the country was simply rejecting the Left was apparently too simple to comprehend. 

    • #30
    • November 4, 2019, at 11:19 PM PST
    • 4 likes
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