The Set-Up ()

directed by Robert Wise
featuring Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter, Wallace Ford

Show Synopsis

As shown by the clock face that opens and closes the film, The Set-Up takes place within a compact 72 minutes, with the action played out in "real time." Robert Ryan plays Bill "Stoker" Thompson, a washed-up boxer who refuses to give up his career despite the pleas of his wife Julie (Audrey Totter). There's little chance that he's going to win this evening's bout; still, Stoker's manager Tiny (George Tobias) has secretly made a deal with a crooked gambler (Alan Baxter). Stoker is to take a dive, a fact withheld from him ...


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Nov 18, 2020

No Set-Up

"The Set-Up" (1949) tells the a story of a fixed fight and of an aging fighter who refuses to take his fall. Robert Ryan gives an early career-defining performance as Stoker Thompson, 35, a heavyweight on his way out but not on his way down. He is billed against a young promising heavyweight, Tiger Nelson, 23, and is to throw the fight which virtually everyone thinks he will lose anyway. But Stoker has other ideas and pays the price for redemption. Among other fine performances, Audrey Thompson plays Stoker's loyal wife Julia, Alan Baxter is the sinister tight-faced gangster Little Boy, and the great character actor Percy Helton plays Stocker's cornerman, Red.

"The Set-Up" captures the world of boxing in all its sleaze. The fighting is basically for peanuts, for boxers either at the beginning or at the end. The film offers a realistic, gritty picture of fighters at both end of the spectrum It shows the sweaty, fetid training room where the boxers share their thoughts with one another and return bruised and beaten or victorious. The four-round bout between Stocker and Tiger is realistic and brutal, as befitting two actors who had actual boxing experience. The nature of the fight crowd at the event is captured in all its variety and ugliness. And the loneliness of both Stocker and his wife as they face the fight and themselves comes through in many telling scenes. The movie takes place in "real time" with many shots of clocks.

"The Set-Up" is an outstanding film noir about the fight game with something to say about the human spirit. The screenplay by Art Cohn was loosely based on a long poem of the same name by Joseph Monicure March. As always I learned a great deal from Eddie Muller's "Noir Alley" commentary on this film. The great New York City street photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig) appears in this film ringing the bell between rounds during the fight.

Robin Friedman

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