The Set-Up (1949) Robert Wise
Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 1 DVD
Bill “Stoker” Thompson (Robert Ryan) has all the cards stacked against him. He just doesn’t know it. Everyone else does, though. Stoker’s wife Julie (Audrey Totter) is concerned that at his age (35), Stoker is going to get seriously hurt or killed if he stays in the ring. His manager Tiny (George Tobias) is so sure Stoker will lose his next fight against a 23-year-old fighter that he doesn’t even let Stoker know that a local mobster expects him to take a dive. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the crowd at the Paradise City Arena has nothing but boos and hisses for Stoker and cheers for the younger guy.
But this is Stoker played by Robert Ryan, an actor who never gives up regardless of whether he’s playing a hero or a goat. Of course it didn’t hurt that Ryan was actually a heavyweight boxing champion for four years at Dartmouth, a skill that gives the fighting scenes great authenticity and impact. But Ryan’s acting is just as impressive as his fists and the screenplay by Art Cohn is just one of many outstanding elements of the film.
The Set-Up – filmed in just 19 days at RKO – certainly deserves a longer, fuller review than what I’m giving it here. It’s filled with a great noir city in Paradise City, a loser’s town filled with hucksters, shysters, sweaty no-goods smoking cigars, and a crowd hungry for blood, young or old, they don’t care. The fight scenes are well-staged, the atmosphere pitch-perfect and the story top-notch. (The film also uses real time or the unity of time, as some call it, to great effect.) This is great film noir. Don’t miss it this Noirvember.
(Photo: Alt Screen)