The Set-Up (1949)

Approved  |   |  Film-Noir, Sport  |  2 April 1949 (USA)
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Reviews: 67 user | 36 critic

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 ... See full summary »



(screenplay), (from the poem by)
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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Audrey Totter ...
Alan Baxter ...
Percy Helton ...
Hal Baylor ...
Tiger Nelson (as Hal Fieberling)
Kenny O'Morrison ...
James Edwards ...
Luther Hawkins
Gunboat Johnson
Phillip Pine ...
Edwin Max ...


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. Written by Rod Crawford <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


I Want a Man... Not a Human Punching Bag! See more »


Film-Noir | Sport


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

2 April 1949 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El luchador  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Martin Scorsese is a big fan of the film and was so impressed by the boxing sequences that he had to deliberately avoid copying any of Robert Wise's camera tricks when it came his turn to make a boxing movie, Raging Bull (1980). See more »


When Stoker is laying on the dressing room table after the fight, the position of Gus's "Love" magazine, located above Stoker's head, changes from the medium shot to the closeup. See more »


Stoker: Well, that's the way it is. You're a fighter, you gotta fight.
See more »


Referenced in L.A. Noire (2011) See more »


A Touch of Texas
(1942) (uncredited)
Music by Jimmy McHugh
See more »

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User Reviews

Bitter Dregs Of The Sweet Science
29 September 2005 | by (Beyond The Cosmos) – See all my reviews

ROBERT WISE 1914-2005 The clock reads 9:05 in the p.m. And the nighttime streets are teeming. The entrance to the athletic club is especially busy. It's fight night. Crammed into a small, tawdry locker room, the young hopefuls and old dreamers who comprise the boxers prepare to do battle. Each fighter feels it's his night to win. Each fighter is certain that he is "one punch away" from the big time, perhaps even a chance at a championship. Off in a corner, one fighter, the aging Stoker Thompson, clings to his illusions with heartbreaking desperation.

By the time the viewer reaches that early scene in Robert Wise's shattering THE SET-UP, one is already immersed in Stoker's bleak existence. Milton Krasner's sinuous camera opens the film with a graceful crane shot, smoothly setting the film's tone by quickly establishing a sense of place and people. Almost as quickly, Art Cohn's screenplay begins to pepper you with sharp, terse dialog. Scenes unfold with alacrity, extending just long enough to deepen the drama of Stoker's physical and psychological struggle. The resulting emotional turmoil is fairly excruciating.

The film's atmosphere is enveloped in a rank crudeness commingled with an unsubtle irony that jumps out at the viewer: a backwater, honky tonk town called Paradise City; a fleabag flophouse dubbed Hotel Cozy; glaring neon letters flashing over the nightmarish streets: "Dreamland". Meanwhile, inside the boxing arena, circling the ringside, waits the paying public, an especially vicious cross-section of humanity, shouting to the rafters for bloody mayhem. Yet the cruelest twist is meted out to the too old Stoker, still striving to reach his battered aspirations while nearly everyone in his world, including his suffering and profoundly sensible wife, works against him.

As director Robert Wise mentions in his commentary on the DVD, 1949 produced two powerhouse films with boxing serving as a framework for the story. But while Mark Robson's terrific CHAMPION (starring Kirk Douglas in the role that made him a star) gives its central character the full biographical treatment over a long period of time (with plenty of drama and melodrama to go with it), the "real time" compression of THE SET-UP captures a brief, agonizing moment. The anguish Wise draws from Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter is remarkable, as are the performances of the other actors. Krasner's cinematography is equal to the best of that period (Alton, Howe, Robert KrasKER of THE THIRD MAN fame, Musuraca, Roe; interestingly there are shots in THE SET-UP and CHAMPION that are, except for the actors, nearly identical in composition and lighting). "I can't fight no more," Stoker moans at the end, an utterance that certifies his professional demise but also signals his chance at a new and hopefully better life.

The filmography of Robert Wise, who died on September 14th at 91 years, is well-established and known widely by film buffs the world over including the many who submit their comments to this website. However, exceptional work is always worthy of another look. Like Howard Hawks, Wise had great critical and commercial success in a variety of genres including westerns and crime films. Winning Academy Awards for two big musicals, WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), he was also adept at horror: THE BODY SNATCHER (1945); THE HAUNTING (1963); science fiction: the peerless THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1970); and dramas laced with social commentary: I WANT TO LIVE (1958) with its focus on capital punishment, and ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959) which married a crime caper plot to a biting study on the effects of racism. His career in film was charmed from the start as he edited CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS for Orson Welles (AMBERSONS had no small controversy when Wise "saved" the film after Welles was barred from the final cut). In all, Robert Wise directed thirty-nine features, many of them memorable, with some becoming indisputable classics.

32 of 43 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Remake of The Set-Up in the works carehart
The mook in the audience who keeps throwing the fake punches. Ham_and_Egger
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DVD of The Set-Up out now in UK! mr-dan-hunter
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