Saturday, December 31, 2005

THE SET-UP (1949) - Robert Wise

At 72 non-stop minutes, this real-time boxing noir packs a solid punch. Robert Ryan plays “Stoker” Thompson, an aging middleweight on a losing streak both in the ring and in the bedroom. Stoker still thinks he has one good fight left in him, but wife Audrey Totter’s not so sure. She’s tired of the knockouts and wants him out of the fight game immediately, before he’s too punchy to even run a modest candy stand.

Stoker insists on fighting one more time much to her chagrin. And, unbeknownst to him, he’s walking into a rigged fight arranged by his manager and a local crime boss wherein Stoker is to take a dive in the third round for a cool payday. True, The Set-Up has that familiar “prizefighter taking a dive” construct seen so often in pulp noir paperbacks and B-Movies based on same. But the fact that Ryan doesn’t even know the fix is in combined with the real-time constraints gives this little movie a quiet, epic quality wrapped in a small package.
You can definitely see hints of the later Pulp Fiction (the Bruce Willis story) and Raging Bull (the fight scenes) in this one. Yet it stands on its own somewhere between film noir and a Rocky-style slug-fest, combining noir’s pessimistic elements with an uncharacteristically upbeat ending. Sometimes you’ve got to have the shit kicked out of you to have the best day of your life. Or so it would seem.

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