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Review: 'Genius on Hold' a tribute to corporate victim

February 28, 2013|By Gary Goldstein
  • Walter L. Shaw testifying under sub–subpoena for the 1961 McClelland Senate hearings on organized crime, from the documentary "Genius on Hold."
Walter L. Shaw testifying under sub–subpoena for the 1961 McClelland… (Cinema Libre Studio )

When it comes to corporate greed, misguided political policies and the little guy getting the shaft, not much has changed in America over the last century or so. At least that's what the fine documentary "Genius on Hold," via its remarkable account of unsung telecommunications inventor Walter Shaw, so convincingly illustrates.

Although writer-director Gregory Marquette gets a bit too ambitious in framing Shaw's ill-fated story within the context of the U.S.' greatest financial crises — the 1929 stock market crash and 2008's Wall Street debacle — the filmmaker mostly focuses, with great detail yet admirable economy, on Shaw's sad, twisty tale of battling telephone giant AT&T.

How that mega-company, which for 107 years (it was finally broken up in 1984) held a monopolistic, government-sanctioned grip on our nation's phone business and thus legally denied longtime employee — and undisputed genius — Shaw ownership of such post-WWII-era telephonic patents as the speakerphone, call forwarding and conference calling, is near-Shakespearean in its consequences (a desperate Shaw ended up working for the mob, serving undue jail time and dying penniless of cancer in 1996).

Using a wealth of archival footage plus interviews with Shaw's daughter, Linda; his long-estranged ex-jewel thief son (and the film's producer), Walter; and many other observers, Marquette, aided by Frank Langella's precise narration, has crafted an engrossing and disturbing tribute.

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"Genius on Hold." MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, brief language and some smoking images. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.

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