December 27, 2019  (Web Review)

The Set-Up

Warner, 72 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $21.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Robert Wise was an ambitious director working his way up out of B-movies and into bigger productions when he made the 1949 film The Set-Up, a boxing drama seeped in the film noir world of corruption, betrayal, and brutality. Robert Ryan earned his first top billing as Bill “Stoker” Thompson, an aging boxer who still dreams of a shot at the title despite losing recent bouts. His loving wife (Audrey Totter) refuses to watch him get beaten in the ring once again and his manager (George Tobias) has taken money to throw the fight without telling Stoker—pocketing the boxer’s share with the expectation that he’ll lose easily to the young opponent. Adapted from a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, the story plays out in real time (three years before High Noon became famous for doing the same thing) and Wise makes the most of his low budget by emphasizing the shabbiness of the locations: the smoke-filled arena filled with bloodthirsty fans, the cramped and crowded dressing room, the anonymous streets that Stoker’s wife wanders during the bouts. Ryan brings his experience as a college boxer to the brutal fight scenes, which Wise shoots close-in with a fluid camera, while his performance shows us a hopeful man in a beaten-down body who holds on to his dignity, even at the risk of crossing a vengeful hoodlum. One of the best boxing films ever made, it won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival and filmmaker Martin Scorsese studied the film while making Raging Bull. Newly remastered for Blu-ray, extras include an audio commentary track featuring Wise and Scorsese carried over from the earlier DVD release. Highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)