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: The Set-Up (1949)  ( 1948 )
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« : June 06, 2012, 07:15:05 PM »

The Set-Up (1949)

Previous discussion:


"That's the way it is. You're a fighter, you gotta fight" ...Stoker Thompson
The Set-Up (1949)    
  Directed by
Robert Wise


Robert Ryan ....  Bill "Stoker" Thompson
Audrey Totter ....  Julie Thompson
George Tobias ....  Tiny
Alan Baxter ....  Little Boy
Wallace Ford ....  Gus
Percy Helton ....  Red
Hal Baylor ....  Tiger Nelson
Darryl Hickman ....  Shanley
Kenny O'Morrison ....  Moore
James Edwards ....  Luther Hawkins
David Clarke ....  Gunboat Johnson
Phillip Pine ....  Tony Souza
     Lost in Palookaville

Thanks to Warner Brothers...this critically acclaimed corker of a movie has been  rescued from the cracks into which it had fallen.
The Set-Up tells the story of a nearly washed-up 35 year-old prizefighter, Stoker Thompson ,..a fourth rate boxer in a two-bit town, brilliantly & compellingly played by Robert Ryan, in perhaps his finest hour in his finest role.
Stoker finds himself on the boxing B Circuit... in the sweltering, smoke-filled, world of seedy nightclubs and cheap motels that thrive in the ironically named  Paradise City,......... who prepares to enter the ring against an up and coming fighter 12 years his junior.. , he doesn't know that his manager and trainer have set him up to take a dive , having made a deal with local gangster Little Boy (Alan Baxter) but they don't bother telling him, figuring Stoker is so washed up he's going to lose anyway..foregoing the need to convince him to do it/cut him in...Meanwhile, Stoker's wife (Audrey Totter, herself a veteran of many films of the noir cycle), across the street in their seedy hotel room,  tries to decide if she wants to see her husband get his brains bashed in again...tired of wondering if this will be the one he doesn't walk away from, takes an amazing walk along an amazing nighttime landscape..  a garish..moonlit..neon world filled with arcades ( the wonderfully named  Dreamland Arcade), bars, and chop suey places.......populated by dreamers, & schemers.

Directed by the prolific Robert Wise.. who effects a remarkable fluidity within scenes, as well as from one scene to the next...the composition of each scene is impeccable in it's details.. background.. each frame teeming w/ life, ..full of shadows....hopes...dreams..& unfulfillment.

I didnt even consider, as I was watching, that there was no was that perfect & appropriate.....this film's soundtrack is the rhythm of life..conversations..come ons, the background from radios & jukeboxes.
The pace is propulsively energetic (I stole that line from somewhere..) .................

The Set-Up works as a sports movie...a boxing allegory...a character drama...with gritty noir elements. ... the dingy and shadowy settings ,  and the seedy figures that inhabit them.. although Wise does manage to tweak & twist the genre somewhat.    
The world of noir is a dark every possible opportunity, someone is chiseling someone else...............   & everyone is looking for that million to one shot to make it to the top.

The film..a tight., not at all sparse (this film is loaded) 72 minutes, unfolds in real time. The big boxing scene, which lasts roughly a half one of the best, most realistic scenes of its kind... ever , staged with beautiful rhythm,  building and building to a gut wrenching conclusion. Ryan having been a collegiate boxing champion at Dartmouth, of course adds to the naturalism.

The ultimate set-up may be life itself....but what remains to be discovered,  are the consequences of the choices made while caught in a  web of fate.

DVD Extras:  Commentary by Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese..apparently recorded separately, but interesting nonetheless.

This movie sticks with hour..a day..after seeing still resonates...and gets better. Recommended.



Title: The Set Up
Actors: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter
Director: Robert Wise

Plot Outline: Over-the-hill boxer Bill 'Stoker' Thompson insists he can still win, though his sexy wife Julie pleads with him to quit. But his manager Tiny is so confident he will lose, he takes money for a "dive" from tough gambler Little Boy...without bothering to tell Stoker. Tension builds as Stoker hopes to "take" Tiger Nelson, unaware of what will happen to him if he does. -IMDb

My Thoughts: I'll start by saying I'm a very ametuer (someone must tell me how to spell this word correctly!) reviewer, so I'm going to keep it simple. I just watched it five minutes ago, and just about everything about the movie is perfect aside from some major pacing problems. The acting, direction, characters, and noir style are superb. By superb, I mean superb. Nothing much else for me to say there. Now onto the pacing. First of all, the movie is far too short at a 72 minute running time. I have no problem with the pacing of the first act in which Stoker is waiting for the fight to begin, wondering if his wife will show - the tension builds perfectly. What I do have a problem with this first part is the scenes of his wife wandering the streets, trying to decide whether or not to go to the fight. I realize that highlighting her indecision is a pretty major aspect of the movie, but I feel just cutting all of these scenes would be better for the movie. It did a good enough job continuously showing her empty seat during the fight.

Now - onto the fight itself. Being a big boxing fan, I found this fight to be very well filmed and exciting. I enjoyed watching it. That being said, I felt it dragged on far too long. The point was to see if Stoker had the willpower to go on, not taking the dive. The fight could have been cut quite a bit to still get this point across.

As for the last 10 minutes of the movie, it simply shows the consequences of not taking the drop. It maybe could have been expanded a little bit as it seems even shorter in contrast to the lengthy fight scene, but I have no real problem.

It may seem as if I hate it due to the amount of complaining I did about the pacing, but I actually happen to love it as previously mentioned. Even if the movie was cut to under an hour by getting rid of the scenes of Stoker's wife and shortening the fight a little, I believe it would be a stronger film. Maybe a masterpiece.

My final verdict: 9/10. One of the better noirs I've seen.


Leone Admirer

Thanks for the review rrpower. I love The Set Up. Great Wise film and the ending is so brutal but yet has to happen for one of the protagonist's dreams to come true. Marty has gone on record to say he based the look of his fight scenes in Raging Bull on this great film.

Re The Seattle Noir fest: I would be there if I could, in a heart beat. I'm hoping to catch the one in NY next year. i missed this years  

« : June 06, 2012, 07:37:55 PM drinkanddestroy »

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« #1 : June 06, 2012, 07:23:22 PM »

Previous Discussion on The Set-Up continued....



The Set-Up (1949)

What I don't like about this movie? Its perfection. Direction is faultless, but too elaborated. The characters (expecially the boxers) are all exemplary. Audrey Totter would make every fighter a loser with her whining about retiring. Ryan is the "iveseenitall" kind: and the too intelligent look on his face makes one wonder why should he be still stuck on boxing at 35. And last but not least, Rocky's fights are more realistic than the set-up one in this. I've read  that Ryan was an adept of the art in his youjth: one easily understands why he didn't make a name for himself. Still the movie has unquestionable merits: the pace, the side characters, the actors. 7\10


cigar joe

The Set-Up (1949) Director Robert Wise, with Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias,  Alan Baxter, and Wallace Ford. Great little boxing Film Noir with a lot and I mean of atmosphere. Robert Ryan, aging fighter, who has a room in the "Cozy Hotel" with his girl Audrey Totter, goes up against a young opponent with underworld connections, his manager doesn't tell him that he supposed to take a dive, for $50 bucks no less (hey, a hamburger and two beers tab came to $1.16 including the tax, lol). He finally finds this out during the fight but he was not going give up and beats the kid. Repercussions come.

The cinematography is outstanding we get are a lot of nice beautifully lit and composed facial closeups and boxing action with a juxtaposition of great 5 to 10 second cutaway vignettes of various members of the fight audience reactions that provide a wonderful cross section of humanity. Another 10/10 for me. 


dave jenkins (dj quotes the second paragraph of cj's review and says...)

Amen  O0


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This post gets Agnew's stamp of approval!

« #2 : June 06, 2012, 07:33:00 PM »

Awesome flick. O0

The real gem of this group is Robert Wise's (The Sand Pebbles) take on the crooked, grimy world of professional boxing. Ryan gives probably his best performance (with all due respect to Billy Budd and The Wild Bunch) as the tragic Stoker Thompson, a past-his-prime boxer who career - and life - are pulled out from under him by his supposed friends.

Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) is an aging heavyweight champ due to fight against up-and-comer Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor). Stoker's manager Tiny (George Tobias), however, agrees to throw the fight without telling Stoker; he's so sure his charge will lose that he doesn't bother to cut Stoker in. Stoker gives the fight his all and somehow manages to win, leaving him to face the wrath of tough guy Little Boy (Alan Baxter) and his goons.

Filmed roughly in real-time, The Set-Up is a wonderful little film. The story is pretty straightforward but plays out like an epic tragedy: Stoker's playing against a rigged deck but doesn't realize it, and he has to pay the consequences for his manager's perfidy. Wise's sparse direction adding a documentary-real feel to the proceedings, bringing the seedy world of boxing to vivid life. It's a remarkably grim and downbeat film, showing a horribly amoral and destructive world in chilling detail.

This has to be Ryan's best performance. He rarely got to play sympathetic characters but he really shines here, convincing as the proud, aged boxer and the man betrayed. Audrey Totter adds a welcome glimmer of humanity as Stoker's girlfriend. The supporting cast is filled out by a dependably seedy bunch: Alan Baxter (Abe Lincoln in Illinois), George Tobias (Mildred Pierce), Hal Baylor (Sands of Iwo Jima), James Edwards (Patton) and Wallace Ford (The Man From Laramie). 9/10

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« #3 : June 04, 2017, 10:30:11 PM »

I saw this film about 11 or 12 years ago and I enjoyed it. Very atmospheric and well-acted!

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