September 29, 2019

THE SET-UP: Raging Robert
THE SET-UP (1949)
Starring Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter, Wallace Ford. Directed by Robert Wise. (72 min)

Review by Mr. Paws😸

Film noir and boxing go together like cops & doughnuts, and for my money, there isn’t a more effective example than The Set-Up. More so than The Killers or The Harder They Fall, we really feel like we’re examining the underside of an overturned rock.

Robert Ryan is terrific as “Stoker” Thompson, an aging boxer who never hit the big time. Still, he clings to the hope that he’ll win again someday. And he’s just one of a dozen-or-so others who fight each weekend at the seedy Paradise City Arena. Some are young hopefuls, others are as worn-out and weary as Stoker. Though it’s never spoken, most of these men seem aware they’re destined to serve as little more than cannon fodder for up-and-coming boxers bankrolled by crooked gamblers.

Thompson’s manager, Tiny (George Tobias) arranges for him to take a dive during his next match, but since Stoker has lost his last 27 fights, neglects to inform him. Meanwhile, Stoker gears-up for the match, confident he can win this time. However, his wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), refuses to watch him take another beating. In fact, she wants him to quit so the two of them can start a new life.

"More gin, Stoke?"
Primarily a character study, The Set-Up is presented almost in real time, from the deal Tiny makes with local mobster Little Boy (Alan Baxter), through the revealing, introspective locker room moments and culminating in Stoker’s match. By this time, his quiet desperation not-only has us rooting for him, but fearing for his life since he’s completely unaware he’s supposed to lose. No stranger to the genre, Ryan is believable as an aging fighter, both in and out of the ring.

The climactic fight sequence is long, grueling and – considering the era when the film was made – brilliantly shot and edited. We feel like were in the middle of the fight, feeling every punch. It’s only fitting that Martin Scorsese contributes to the film’s audio commentary, since this sequence obviously had a huge influence on Raging Bull.

Director Robert Wise has made a slew of iconic classics in a variety of genres, which tends to overshadow how skillfully he could put together a comparatively small, visceral piece of film noir, particularly in his early years. The Set-Up is a prime example of the genre, full of intriguing character-driven moments, a bruising climax and a bittersweet resolution. Great stuff.

AUDIO COMMENTARY – By Director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese (of course).


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