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NY1 Movie Review: "Genius On Hold"

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A new documentary looks at the life of a little-known man whose numerous inventions are used my millions of people every day. NY1's Neil Rosen filed the following review.

Walter Shaw is certainly not a household name, and odds are, you probably never heard of him. Yet we use his inventions every day. Now, there's a new documentary all about this man. It's called "Genius On Hold".

Shaw was brilliant when it came to all things concerning the telephone. He invented call forwarding, touch tone dialing, the speaker phone and conference calling. He also was responsible for dozens of others innovative telecommunications patents.

One would think that a smart guy like this would be rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. But the sad truth is, Shaw never received any recognition and barely made a dime.

The reason is corporate greed. Back in the 1940's and '50s, when Shaw was creating all this cool stuff, AT&T was a powerful government-sanctioned monopoly. So when Shaw wanted to own his patents, Ma Bell said no way.

Shaw decided to fight back, and the result was that AT&T made his life miserable. Unable to make a living, he turned to organized crime. He developed a black box that let bookies place untraceable bets over the phone and he wound up going to jail.

It's a fascinating story about how one man can't go up against the system and how Shaw's frustration and desperation drove him to the dark side.

The first half of the film is captivating as it not only shows us Shaw's life, but offers up an intriguing history of the phone company.

Where the movie goes off the rails is in the second half, as documentary filmmaker Gregory Marquette spends too much time on Shaw's son, who was once a mobster and jewel thief. It sadly takes the focus away from the his father's tale, which is infinitely more involving.

Marquette does make some interesting points at the end about how corporate power has become out of control these days, and overall, it's an OK movie. But it could have been better, considering the fascinating details of this prolific inventor's life.

Neil Rosen's NY1 Big Apple Rating Scale: 2 1/2 Apples

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