The Set-Up (1949) Poster

(1949)

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10/10
Knockout
telegonus10 August 2002
This is an awfully hard and brutal movie, produced at the end of the brief, rather high end Dore Schary regime at RKO (1946-48), just prior to Howard Hughes' purchase of the studio, which led to the company's slow, agonizing decline that forced it, or rather its new owners, to close it down ten years later. It's the story of an aging boxer, over the hill but still harboring a measure of optimism, really a sort of pride. In this tragic role Robert Ryan is superb. Tough, compassionate, deeply ethical, realistic, and yet with just enough of the dreamer in him to keep him emotionally afloat, Stoker Thompson represents the best qualities of the so-called common man. In an earlier, more heroic age, he might have been a knight; but alas we do not live in such a time, thus his personal qualities go unnoticed by all but his wife. In this role, Audrey Totter is almost as good as Ryan. Some of her scenes are unforgettable, as when she tears up the ticket to her husband's fight and throws it over the bridge into the steam of an oncoming train; or when she watches a bunch of silly teenagers "play" at boxing with a couple of performing puppets, which at first amuses her, then horrify her when she realizes her own and her husband's fate in this little "play" scene.

The film is a masterpiece of design and composition. Director Robert Wise never made a better picture than this. The movie, like High Noon, plays out in real time, and as a result has an air of urgency to it. Adapted from a poem by Joseph Moncure March, which tells essentially the same story, but with the main character a black man, Wise and scenarist Art Cohn take considerable liberties here that purists' might not care for. In the poem the setting is New York, while in the movie it's a tank town called Paradise City, a far cry from New York even if it's in fact less than a hundred miles away, upstate, or in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. The film never makes this clear. Here and there hints are dropped that the setting might be California. It doesn't matter. The Paradise City boxing arena is a place for young guys on their way up and old guys on their way down. It's a million miles from Madison Square Garden, and that's all that counts.

The film's settings are beautifully realized; and Milton Krasner's photography is no less brilliant. The central street, all blinking lights, and yet shadowy and black in odd places, is a perfect visual metaphor for the action of the film; while seldom have the denizens of a small city looked more menacing. Men in garish ties and fedoras jostle each other on the sidewalk as they pass by. They are a hard, apathetic breed, and hungry for sensation. Inside the arena we see humanity at its least admirable, as there is an undercurrent of sadism in even the most innocuous-seeming fight fans, such as a blind man ("go for his eyes!). We sense that these people come not so much to see a favorite boxer win as a hapless boxer lose.

In the center of all this is Stoker, a man with character surrounded by people who couldn't care less. As his handlers, a porcine, toothpick-chewing Percy Helton, and a thick-witted George Tobias, are superb. In a somewhat smaller role, Edwin Max, in pinstripe suit, with pencil-line mustache's, and what look like three soggy Salada tea bags under each eye, is visually perfect as a small-time something, not even hood, just a guy who runs around and does things for the big guy, played by Alan Baxter, a sort of anti-Stoker, a man without qualities who goes to great lengths to show that he has class and principles, when in fact he has neither. The man is a monster, and he doesn't even have guts. When Stoker punches him in the face he lets his goons do the dirty work.

The interior lives of the two main characters in this film suggest an affinity with the humanistic stoicism Hemingway, while the surface is closer to Weegee and Walker Evans. Overall, though, the movie is pure RKO; its courage-in-the-face-of-adversity theme suggests, almost uncannily, this odd man out among the major studios' history and future, and the best qualities of those who worked there.
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Great depressing stuff in the dressing room, a gripping fight and a solid narrative
bob the moo19 April 2005
Bill "Stoker" Thompson is 34, not old perhaps but in the world of boxing that makes him an old man. Despite the protestations of his wife Julie, Stoker still believes that one more punch, one more fight will see him making it into the marquee fights and the big time rather than being on the support bill. As he waits in the dressing room full of similar hopefuls (some his age and tired, others just starting and full of big dreams) his trainer is busy making the fix with the opposition – for Stoker to go down like a $10 ho and not last the distance. However, Stoker isn't told as his manager assumes that Stoker losing is a given and that the "fix" is unnecessary and easy money for them all; however with Stoker feeling this is "the one", it may not be that simple.

Although Rocky is the one that most people will throw at you when you ask them to name a great boxing movie, The Set-Up is much, much more interesting as its aspirations are empty, its sights never getting much beyond the gutter and the men merely small players in a game that never plans for them to win. The narrative is essentially about Stoker entering a fight not aware that he has already been bought to lose but the actual film is much better than this limited plot suggests. For much of the first third we are treated to an intimate look at the small time boxers – whether it be the punch-drunk old timers or the youngster who believe that they will only be doing this level for one or two fights before hitting it big. This is the reality – as much as we love to see the Rocky tale of the underdog getting his day in reality the underdogs of life generally remain just that – underdogs. In this section of the film this is very well painted and, although the characters are not deep enough to be people they are definitely well enough written to be interesting and engaging.

The other two thirds of the film are concerned with the fight and the aftermath, with the fight taking up the majority of the second half of the film. The fight is realistic and tense throughout, I was genuinely unsure how it would go. The aftermath is short and punchy (sorry!) and is effectively dark and gritty for it. The end result is a film that is dark, low key and gripping throughout; it exists in the gutter, in the small time where all our characters seem destined to remain regardless of heart or talent. The cast deliver well, particularly the lead role from former college boxer Ryan. He is really in touch with his character and delivers convincingly in his dialogue, his boxing and his mannerisms; while in the dressing room his facial responses to other boxers show thoughts within his head and conflicting emotions that his experience and age allow him. He is the dominant figure of the film and his is a great performance. Totter is a little less refined but her emotional delivery works well in both of her main scenes with Ryan – although her wandering the streets could perhaps have been trimmed a little bit. The support cast are less well written but do still play their parts well enough but it is Ryan's film and worth seeing for him alone.

Luckily he is not the only reason to see it as the film is engaging, well written, dark, gritty, tense and very enjoyable. The lower number of votes (and potentially therefore, younger viewers) is a tragic state of affairs considering the class on display in this short punchy product and I for one will be answering "The Set-Up" when asked to name a great boxing movie.
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8/10
Running On Pride
bkoganbing13 August 2010
If your taste runs to happy endings and beautiful people than stay away from The Set-Up. But if gritty and realistic drama is your taste you can't do better than this noir classic about the world of boxing. The Set-Up anticipated Rod Serling's Requiem For a Heavyweight by a decade as it deals with the same issues about a boxer at the end of his career.

Anthony Quinn might very well have seen Robert Ryan in The Set-Up when he played Mountain Rivera in Requiem For A Heavyweight. Rod Serling must have seen it as well. Both films deal with a boxer at the end of his career, but who has a lot of pride. Manager George Tobias and trainer Percy Helton get an offer from gambler Alan Baxter who is backing an up and coming heavyweight contender Hal Baylor. Ryan is just another step up the ladder, a ladder when Ryan was younger he was climbing. Tobias and Helton agree to take a dive, but no one can broach the subject to Ryan.

Which sets it all up for the final match and the aftermath where Ryan betrayed by all hangs in on nerve and pride alone. What happens afterward is for you to view, but don't expect the same kind of resolution that Requiem For A Heavyweight gave.

A really big surprise here are George Tobias and Percy Helton who normally play comic parts are quite serious here as a pair of fight game characters. The performances are so atypical of the work you've come to expect from both.

Ryan's amateur boxing career no doubt stood him in good stead for this role. He makes a rugged looking boxer who's been through the ring wars over and over again. That helps him in this latest encounter.

The sets are gritty and realistic, in fact I've never seen an urban area done so well until Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm debuted six years later. Preminger also might have been influenced by The Set-Up when he made his classic.

Although unnoticed at first, The Set-Up has slowly built a reputation as one of the great noir films out of RKO and one of the best boxing films ever made. For myself it certainly influenced a lot of people.
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8/10
One of the most brilliant little films noirs of the Forties that evokes a brilliant feeling for time and place…
Nazi_Fighter_David22 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Evoking so accurately the seedy, down-at-heel world of the professional boxer, "The Set Up" is right1y regarded as probably the best boxing film ever made…

It was shot in black and white, as was the only other film on the sport to equal it, "Raging Bull" (1980), but the scene of Robert Ryan as the washed-up prize fighter refusing to take a fall and seen slugging it out with Hal Fieberling, nonetheless captures the merciless, stark, brutal quality of the film and its subject…

This was one of Ryan's best roles and no doubt the fact that he had held his college heavyweight boxing title for four years enabled him to bring an even greater sense of authenticity to the part… It also provided Robert Wise with his directorial breakthrough after a period of routine B pictures, and won the Critics' Prize at the 1950 Cannes Film Festival…
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10/10
Forgotten gem
arngest25 June 2004
Robert Wise was one of Hollywood's most versatile and talented directors, but amidst all the classic films he made, this one was purportedly his personal favourite. It's easy to see why. Seedy, gritty, and stark, it's about as subtle as a hard right to the jaw. Ryan - one of the most underrated actors in American cinema - delivers a superb performance as Stoker, an aging boxer looking to salvage his dignity if not his career. It's a moral choice that could cost him his friends, his marriage and his future. Among the many interesting facets of the film is the use of other boxers on the night's ticket to reflect and reveal aspects of Stoker's own character - the loss of his youthful dreams, the fear of pain and permanent damage. Wise reserves such subtle devices for Stoker alone - every other character is rather one-dimensional, though this came across to me as a conscious choice to better fit the story into the 'real time' format, and to keep us focused solely on Stoker's story. The camera work and visuals are as stark and as potent as the story, carefully chosen to reflect the emotional beats of the story. Overall, an archetypal example of film noir not to be missed. Don't consider yourself a true film buff until you've seen this movie!
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10/10
Bitter Dregs Of The Sweet Science
Arriflex129 September 2005
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.
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8/10
The Great One
David (Handlinghandel)2 November 2005
This is a beautiful study in despair. The simple plot is moving. The boxing scenes are excellent. The dark photography is breathtaking. And it is superbly directed.

The director is one of the two mysteries involved in "The Set-Up." Robert Wise directed some of the most incisive, searing films noir in the history of movies. He seems to have had a true feel for the down and dirty. Yet he is best known for overblown, soulless musicals in the 1960s. OK, a man has to eat. But offhand, I can't think of a more dichotomous career.

The other, sadder puzzle is its star, Robert Ryan. He had a solid career as a working actor. Yet he is nearly forgotten today. Cary Grant never won an Academy Award and there are many others, who are often cited. But how could the award have been denied Ryan, one of the finest movie actors of the Twentieth Century?
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10/10
TKO!
apocalypse later12 November 1999
This film is a knockout on every level, a thrilling 75-minute character study told in real time by director Robert Wise. Wise pulls haunting performances from every member of a large cast, and makes telling use of cinematography, sets and sound (every street sign and pop tune seems to comment on the character's broken emotions). Along with "They Drive By Night" and "The Third Man" the same year, "The Set-Up" brought humanity to film noir. An overlooked classic.
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10/10
A Marvelous Example of Film Noir
beejer10 May 1999
This film is a marvelous example of the film noir genre. Directed by Robert Wise, who learned his craft under Val Lewton, the film's settings and lighting, convey the feeling of a 40's boxing scenario - the sweaty neighborhood arena, the seedy hotel, the dark dimly lit streets.

Robert Ryan is simply superb as the washed-up fighter who refuses to compromise his principles and take a dive. Audrey Totter as his long suffering wife and George Tobias as Ryan's handler are excellent too.
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9/10
Boxing as analogy for the American Dream
rdoyle2922 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
"The Set-Up" is one of the great boxing movies, using the sport as a metaphor for the illusory nature of the American Dream, with one of the screen's most realistic scraps, staged by John Indrisano. In the symbolically named Paradise City, "Stoker" Thompson and his wife stay at the sordid Hotel Cozy, and Julie cradles her husband under the neon sign of the Dreamland dance hall in the final scene. In the seedy dressing room Stoker meets a range of boxers - a teenager making his debut, a demented no-hoper going into the ring for the last time, a handsome black determined to box his way out of the ghetto. The film is not an attack on boxing itself, and ultimately the doomed Stokes snatches victory from his defeat.

"The Set-Up" was shot entirely in a studio and has a stylized, expressionistic noir atmosphere. There is only source music from radios, bars, and clubs. The film lasts exactly 72 minutes from the opening to the closing shot (unlike "High Noon", for example, which is shorter than the time shown on the clocks).

Robert Wise edited "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" before he made his directorial debut with Val Lewton's low-budget horror unit at RKO and became a versatile genre director. "The Set-Up", his ninth film, completed his RKO contract, after which he entered the big time, which ultimately led to such pictures as "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music".
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Still Packs A Punch
mcdamsten6 August 2004
Overshadowed by the more heralded The Champion in 1949, I like this movie better. Maybe the grittiness of this one with its unrelentingly seedy environment and no obvious feel good outcome made it less popular at the time. After seeing it for years on cable, a most welcome sight on DVD. Certainly an Oscar caliber performance by Ryan. The direction and cinematograpy also Oscar worthy. The boxing match itself is a classic, convincingly choreographed. The whole cast down to the smallest part is uniformly fine, with many memorable faces. The sense of anxiety we feel for Stoker mixed with hope and fleeting elation makes quite a compelling story. The movie is 71 minutes and is in `real time` ****1/2 out of *****
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8/10
'Rocky' Before There Was A "Rocky'
ccthemovieman-120 December 2005
Fight scenes-wise, this was "Rocky" almost 30 years before there ever was a "Rocky." It was the same kind of unrelenting (and unrealistic in that no matter how bad the beating the good guy was getting, the good guy couldn't lose) boxing action that Sylvester Stallone likes so much.

But, don't get me wrong, I liked this film. It was good stuff. 'Rocky" was drama, romance while this was film-noir.....and solid film-noir, too.

Robert Ryan, playing a 35-year-old aging rank fighter, gives it his all against an up-and-coming kid, not knowing that he supposed to take a dive. He finally finds this out (his manager didn't tell him) and by then, he was not going give up trying against his opponent.

There are so many punches thrown in this four-round bout it will make your head swim. The best part of this film, to me, was the cinematography, which was outstanding. Kudos to director Robert Wise for the photography. There are a lot of nice facial closeups in here, all of which look sharp on the recent DVD transfer.

Humor is thrown into this film-noir as we see a variety of boxing fans, from the bloodthirsty woman to a fat man always eating to another guy acting out the action while in his ringside seat. They provide some much- needed respite from the grim story. Ryan, as he usually was, is interesting to watch. The ending of the film is a tough one and, I found tough to watch at times.

Note: the film was done in "real time" - a 72-minute period in the life of the boxer Ryan portrays.
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9/10
Don't you see Bill? You are always just one punch away.
Spikeopath4 March 2008
The Set-Up is directed by Robert Wise and stars Robert Ryan & Audrey Totter. The screenplay was adapted by Art Cohn from a 1928 poem written by Joseph Moncure March. The story (played out in real time) sees Ryan as Stoker Thompson, a 35 year old nearly washed up boxer still trundling around the circuit believing he's still got what it takes to become a champ. In spite of pleas from his fretful wife, Julie (Totter), Stoker gets in the ring with Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor), a man 12 years younger. Unbeknownst to Stoker, tho, his manager Tiny (George Tobias) has struck a deal with underworld gangster Little Boy (Alan Baxter on prime sweaty and icy form) for him to take a dive and let Nelson win.

What first struck me the most watching this was just how vile everyone apart from the boxers are. The fighters are actually the only ones with honesty and integrity running thru their veins. These guys are the ones with the self respect being a chief issue for them, they are fighting not just for glory, but for a basic human trait. The first half of the film puts us in the boxers changing room as the fighters wait to go out into the ring. Here we see the number of noble pugilists's stripped back to reveal either their fears or their blind beliefs; while they in turn wait to see who comes back victorious or defeated. As they chat amongst themselves the atmosphere is palpable and Wise excellently uses cutaways to the excitable and blood thirsty crowd. The impact is to that of a gladiatorial arena and shows the sport to be seedy yet utterly beguiling at the same time.

Then it's on to Stoker's fight where Ryan is terrific (he actually boxed for College for 4 years). Thompson is a character so stand up, yet driven by foolish pride, it puts Stallone's Rocky Balboa firmly in the shade, his whole "just one punch away" mantra is truly wonderful and heartfelt and leads to one of those endings that are frustratingly brilliant in its bittersweet closure. The whole fight with Nelson has a beautiful fluidity about it (former pro boxer John Indrisano choreographed it), with Milton R. Krasner's photography keeping it grim and humanistic; both in the ring and out on the darkly lit L.A. streets as Totter's conflicted wife ponders a potential battering for her stoic husband.

Boosted up by a towering performance by Ryan, and dripping with a film noir sense of desolation, The Set-Up is a simple but powerful boxing gem. A film that gets down to the nitty-gritty of the fighters and the seedy people that surround them. 9/10
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8/10
gritty and well-acted
MartinHafer8 February 2006
I love Robert Ryan films. Whether playing a scum bag or a hero, his gritty and realistic performances have always impressed me. One of his better films is this boxing flick. Ryan is an old washed-up boxer who is expected to take a dive. Through much of the film, you really don't know what he will do--throw the fight or try to salvage some of his dignity. And, I gotta say that the boxing scenes are brutal and realistic--it really HURTS to watch the fight. If you like the films THE HARDER THEY FALL or REQUIEM TO A HEAVYWEIGHT, then is this movie for you! In fact, try watching all three to get a look at the less glamorous and seedy side of boxing.
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9/10
Brutally Realistic
sol30 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Ryan gives one of his best performances as Stoker, a washed up 35 year-old fighter, in this brutally realistic movie about the fight game that still packs a wallop even now more then fifty years after it's release.

Stoker gets beaten in as well as outside the ring by going all out to defeat Tiger Nelson, Hal Baylor, in a fight that was set-up for him to lose. The only thing that went wrong was that his greedy manager Tiny, George Tobias, didn't inform him about it in order to keep Stoker's share of the $50.00 he was paid off to have Stoker throw the fight. Thinking that he was so over matched against Nelson that he'd lose without even having to take a dive.

Robert Ryan, who was a national collegiate boxing champion at Dortmout and Loyola Collage for four years, is very effective in the fight scenes with Tiger Nelson giving as good as he takes against the much younger Nelson and dropping him for the full count. After it looked like that either he would be knocked out or the referee would have to stop the fight to keep him from being killed by the much younger and stronger opponent Tiger Nelson.

When the fight is over Stoker's manager takes off with the pay-off loot and Stoker, who knew nothing of the set-up, is cornered in the empty boxing arena and beaten again by Tiger Nelson but this time Nelson had the help of a few hoods that he didn't have in the ring when he fought Stoker by himself.

The only touch of humanity and kindness in this brutal and violent film is Stoker's wife Julie, Audrey Totter, with wanting him to quit the fight game before it ends up killing him.

In the movies final scene when Stoker staggers out of the boxing arena after being beating up by the mobsters, for not throwing the fight which his manager "forgot" to tell him to do, and collapses in the street like a skid-row drunk the sight of Julie holding his head in her arms and sobbing and crying for someone to call for an ambulance would make the hardest hearts in this brutal movie melt.

Stoker though beaten and his hands broken where he can never fight again leaves the fight business with his pride dignity and most of all his loving wife Julie, who stood by him during this whole ordeal,in tack and that makes for, if you can call something like that in this movie, a happy ending.
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9/10
Inside a gritty world of boxing, and inside one boxer's head. Amazing!
secondtake30 September 2010
The Set-Up (1949)

This might be the best boxing movie ever made. It's kind of the opposite of "Rocky," of course (this one is about the small points, and not about becoming champion). But it's also the opposite of the two other classics that come to mind: "Raging Bull" and "Body and Soul."

Director Robert Wise made sure that everything here felt authentic and gritty--almost too authentic and gritty. You marvel at all the types in the crowds, inside and outside the ring. You notice the small rooms, the ordinary props, the lack of glamour. If you aren't afraid of the word mise-en-scene, this has created it perfectly. It's transporting.

And moving. Robert Ryan in the lead pulls out some of his best, subtle reactions. He's sometimes prone to strained expressions that may not always fit his character, but here he is thoughtful and determined and showing signs of being the old wise man in the crowd as the younger boxers act cocky or scared.

Then there's the plot drawn out of the title. It's a good thing this doesn't dominate the movie, at least not until the end, because the real plot has to do with a man coming to grips with the end of his career. And with a woman who loves him truly. It's great stuff.
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7/10
Excellent picture combines magnificent performances , evocative cinematography and adequate settings
ma-cortes24 January 2015
Tense Noir picture dealing with boxing corruption and personal integrity . The movie takes place in real time concerning a big fight winds up to real tragedy , which turns out to be one of the best boxing movies of all time . Starred by Bill 'Stoker' Thompson (Robert Ryan in the title role playing one of his earliest characters as main star and he was a boxing champion while a student at college) as the has-been fighter as well as fiercely independent . He is an upright boxer who refuses to disregard his principles as he insists he can still win an important bout , though his beloved wife Julie (Joan Blondell was originally considered for the part of Thompson's wife before the part went to Audrey Totter as victimized spouse) pleads with him to quit . But his coach Tiny (George Tobias) is so confident he will lose , he takes money for a "set up" from gambler Little Boy (Alan Baxter) without bothering to tell Stoker . Suspense builds as Stoker hopes to win Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor) , unaware of what will happen to him if he carries out .

Deeply stirring as well as claustrophobic movie based on an interesting screenplay , it is a noir drama about boxing world with a honorable starring well personified by Robert Ryan and well drawn roles . Based upon a narrative poem published in 1928 by Joseph Moncure March, who gave up his job as the first managing editor of "The New Yorker" to devote himself to writing. One of the first films to be shot using the device of real time , in fact the film lasts the same length as the deeds it depicts. Other notable examples of this narrative device are High Noon (1952) and Nick of time (1995). Very good acting by Robert Ryan as an over-the-hill boxer , role who marked his illustrious career . Producers said they were willing to cast a black actor as the lead character , as it was originally written, but since there were no African-American leading actors in Hollywood at the time, he was obligated to switch the character to a white man . Main starring is supported by Hollywood's finest character actors such as George Tobias , Alan Baxter , Daryl Hickman and Wallace Ford , John Ford's brother. The violent boxing images shocked audiences of the 40s and still retains quite power nowadays. It's a grueling boxing tale with tough realism full of face-blistering, punch, knocks until ¨Raging Bull¨ surpassed it years later . In fact , 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). This results to be one of two boxing movies released in 1949 which are now considered seminal examples of the genre , the other films being Mark Robson's The champion (1949) and The harder they fall also directed by Robson . Dark cinematography in black and white plenty of of lights and shades by Milton R. Krasner . Atmospheric and appropriate production design by RKO's classic designer Albert D'Agostino.

The motion picture was compellingly directed by Robert Wise and the shoot took twenty days . With this ¨The Set up¨, his ninth for RKO, Robert Wise fulfilled his contract with the studio and was able to go off and freelance for other studios . As he was a successful director of all kind genres as musical as ¨West side story¨, ¨The sound of music¨ , Sci-fi as ¨The day the earth stood still¨, ¨Star Trek : the motion picture ¨, ¨The Andromeda strain¨ , Terror as ¨The body snatchers¨ , ¨ Curse of the cat people¨, ¨Audrey Rose¨ , ¨The haunting¨ , Western as ¨Blood on the moon¨, ¨Tribute to a bad man¨, Epic or colossal as ¨Elen of Troy¨ and wartime as ¨The desert rats¨, ¨Run silent , run deep¨ , ¨Hinderburg¨ , ¨The sand pebbles¨ and this his best film : ¨The set up¨. Rating : Better than average . Worthwhile watching .
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7/10
Amazing grace
Robert J. Maxwell20 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
It takes a lot to be a boxer. Every punch in the nose hurts. This one is pretty realistic. Not as uplifting as "Rocky", but a good fight story nevertheless. And pretty well choreographed. Robert Ryan, if I remember, was a boxer at Dartmouth, and his opponent here was state heavyweight champion in California.

The story is simple and well executed. (Based on a poem, believe it or not.

Maybe with an infusion of Hart Benton.) Ryan is supposed to throw a fight and he doesn't, so he is punished at the end. The ending is ironic. Ryan is at the end of his career anyway, and by breaking the bones in his hand, his enemies insure that he won't fight again, which is exactly what his wife, Audrey Totter, wants. (It's her best role.)

Ryan looks like hell at the end. Not as bad as Stallone looked in "Rocky," but then in 1949 everything had to be family oriented, and, anyway, nobody has Stallone's narcissistic taste for self aggrandizement. (He's an endearing Schlub in "Rocky," but when he gets out of bed to drink his raw eggs he's wearing a silky lavender thong that shows off his jewels.) Ryan is a fine actor. No one would call him handsome, I don't think, and he's not a bravura performer. But he's a reliable kind of guy, best at roles that suggest something simmering on the back burner. See him as a cop in "On Dangerous Ground," when he looks at the high-school athletic trophy on his mantel and says to himself, dismally, "Who cares?"

The movie is told in real time, like Oedipus Rex. It has a number of scenes that were, or were about to become, clichés -- the fat guy eating the greasy sandwich, the crooked gambler frowning when Ryan begins to win, the blind guy hollering "get him in the eyes," the lady screaming, "Kill him, kill him." The missing cliché is when the beaten boxer is on the canvas and looks up to see his enemies cheering his defeat, whereupon he gets up and kicks some a**.

But, really, I don't think I've seen a movie in which the choreographed bout looks real. Here, every punch seems to land on target. Plunk. Plunk. PLUNKPLUNK. Nobody ever misses. Nobody dances around long enough to feel his opponent out. I suppose because the director didn't want to bore the audience with two guys who were doing anything other than killing each other. It's a pretty barbaric sport, when you come right down to it.

This is a good low-budget movie and well worth watching if it comes around. Nice job by all concerned.
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Underrated Classic
Melvin M. Carter13 October 2003
Robert Ryan was one of the greatest of the underappreciated actors in the American movie business and this movie is one of the reasons why I say it. If Stallone had made his cartoons this realistic he might not be a faded "star" now. The incident in a midlevel Midwestern city is just a peek at the funky foulness of the boxing business then and now. Mr. Ryan is in top form and so is the rest of the cast. Of the three superior films on boxing in the '40s ("Champion", with Kirk Douglas and "Body and Soul", with John Garfield) this is the best.
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8/10
washed up fighter has one last fight
darryn.mcatee4 April 2000
Boldly filmed in 'real time', the actual boxing match takes up one third of the film and is photographed and edited to nail-biting effect. In its own way, as good as raging bull. However, it is debatable if these films actually denounce boxing as some claim. Whatever exploitative practices go on, and however brutal it is, the sense of beauty, pride and dignity provided in victory is always strongly conveyed.
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8/10
The sure bet
jotix1006 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The world of boxing attracted a kind of individual of a special breed. The sport, as it is considered, flourished around the times where it was the way for poor urban individuals to get out of their surroundings, for it offered the promise of fame and money using one's fists, not one's intellectual powers.

This story takes us to one of those cities during the period after WWII where the chief means of entertainment was boxing on Wednesdays, and wrestling on Fridays. The criminal element behind the fights saw big business in the way money could be made by fixing the matches. Tiny, the manager of Stoker, an aging boxer, figures he stand to make some easy money because his pugilist's career is over. The only problem, he never tells Stoker about his plan. Danny, who is Little Boy's henchman, is told by Tiny that Stoker Thompson is through and will be defeated, a sure bet for the criminal to make money by betting on a sure thing.

Stoker Thompson lives in a seedy hotel with Julie. He has seen better days, but unfortunately, this is the only thing he knows how to make a living. He goes on fighting because he figures it is the only ticket to get out of a bad streak he is having. Julie is apprehensive about tonight's fight because Stoker is facing a younger boxer, who no doubt will beat him.

The atmosphere shows us the crowd that have come to the arena. Stoker will be the last to fight. We watch the reaction of the people in the audience as Stoker sits in the dressing room waiting his turn to go. Julie, who was given a ticket for the event, spends a restless night refusing to go to see Stoker taking a punishment.

When the moment arrive, Stoker gets to the ring. He looks toward where Julie is supposed to be sitting, but she is nowhere to be seen. The bout will be four rounds. Tiny, the manager, and Red, the assistant, are sure Stoker will go down at any moment because his opponent is having a great night. To their horror, Stoker pulls a victory that is not expected. Stoker back in the dressing room gets an unexpected visit of Little Boy, the man who lost money and will not let Stoker Thompson go without punishment.

"The Set-Up" is one of the best films about boxing, bar none. This tense noirish drama, directed by Robert Wise, working with the screenplay by Art Cohn, gives a tense account of that world in a 72 minute feature that keeps us riveted to the action we are watching. It is quite a contrast for this director, whose minimalistic account creates an action packed picture that has kept its punch even after more than sixty years after it was made.

One of the best things in the film is the way the fighting scenes were 'choreographed'. Mr. Wise, who started as a film editor, was influenced greatly by his association with Orson Welles. Let's not forget this man was the editor for "Citizen Kane". The camera work in this film by Milton Krasner puts the viewer inside the sports arena while the fight is going on. We watch the reactions of the crowd in vivid detail, an achievement of Mr. Wise as he involves us in the drama.

Stoker Thompson was one of Robert Ryan's best roles in his film career. The actor gave an amazing performance. Audrey Totter's Julie was also one of her best appearances in movies. The minor characters are quite well drawn. Alan Baxter, George Tobias, Wallace Ford, James Edwards, Darryl Hickman, David Clarke, and the rest made valuable contributions in getting us care for these people.

One of Robert Wise's best films of all times.
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9/10
Raging Biff
ptb-829 October 2005
Please read the other views on this comments page as they all fully explain how and why this astonishing and powerful Robert Wise boxing drama is genuinely one of the great films of the 20th century. Even bit actors playing the smörgåsbord of characters and faces make a perfectly realized mosaic of seedy and grimy 4th rate city fringe life. Viewers might be also interested to recognize 1940s teen star Darryl Hickman, the (more) handsome brother to Dobie Gillis TV star Dwayne Hickman as a young fighter on his first outing; noble black actor James Edwards (later seen in PATTON) in a superb spotlight of warrior-like dignity as Luthor the lithe college keen biff merchant, and Hal Fieberling, blond German he-man who had an incredible film career even from ROBIN HOOD in the 30s right up to the 80s. Fieberling's haircut and 'look' as he slugs it mercilessly with Robert Ryan has such a modern image, he is almost as if he has been transported via CGI from today. The young lead actor in the new (2005) Nazi boxing school film NAPOLA looks exactly like him. Audrey Totter is the film's only weakness and one wonders how much better her role would have been if played by the always available and ever superb Ida Lupino who even looks like her. She was the film's only criticism even in the 1949 reviews which I found last year. Ryan and Lupino acted together in ON DANGEROUS GROUND from RKO in 1952, with its nebulous Bernard Hermann score (that was recycled into NORTH BY NORTHWEST and later TAXI DRIVER) The Set-Up DVD now available has an audio commentary by the late great Mr Wise...BUT be prepared for a tedious and irritating chatter of almost brain-busting proportions from Martin Scorsese.....he just will not shut up, rattling on about anything and everything adnauseum, like Steve Guttenberg in CANT STOP THE MUSIC. It is a great pity Scorsese was allowed to dominate this soundtrack as he is truly annoying. He is not even with Wise when watching the film, the two comments tracks are edited together. Robert Wise, when heard actually ads to the film whereas Scorsese babbles! At the end, Wise thanks us for listening. Scorsese actually then says nothing. Jeezzz.
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Brutal boxing movie with a brilliant performance from Robert Ryan.
Infofreak13 August 2003
I've always like Robert Ryan since I saw 'The Wild Bunch' many, many years ago, but after recently watching his performances in 'Crossfire' and this movie he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors. Ryan is absolutely brilliant in 'The Set-Up' playing Stoker, a tough but compassionate aging boxer, who has been sold out by his manager Tiny (wonderfully played by George Tobias - a very different role than he played in 'Bewitched'!) who has assured a local mobster Little Boy (Alan Baxter, who I recognized from Hitchcock's 'Saboteur') that he will throw the fight. The only problem is Tiny hasn't told Stoker this plan, and despite the pleas of Stoker's wife (Audrey Trotter - 'The Lady In The lake, 'The Postman Always Rings Twice') Stoker wants to WIN. Director Robert Wise made all kinds of movies from horror ('Curse Of The Cat People', 'The Haunting') to musicals ('The Sound Of Music') to science fiction ('The Day The Earth Stood Still', 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture') but he really excelled at Noir, and 'The Set-Up' is one of his very best. I think it ranks alongside 'Raging Bull' and 'Fat City' as the best movie about boxing I've ever seen.
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9/10
colorful b&w fight film
RanchoTuVu22 August 2004
There's more action in the stands and the fighter's dressing room than in the ring in this movie. The big fight occurs at the end, and as the title suggests it's a set up. All done in one night, the film is only 71 minutes. The anxiety in the dressing room as one fighter, and then the next is called up is one of the film's highpoints. All the guys have to sit around until it's there turn to go out in front of one of the most unsympathetic audiences ever assembled. We never get to see their opponents in the other locker room, but they're probably just as nervous. Set in some place called Oasis City, The Set Up featured an even more ragged than normal Robert Ryan as a washed up boxer, whose manager never told him his fight tonight was fixed. The manager collects the payoff and paid off the corner man, but failed to inform his fighter. How would you like to have those guys in your corner? When the fight finally starts, it's for four rounds (twelve minutes) and that's what we get, minus a crucial last second. Audry Totter gives a good performance as the wife, who has had to be with her husband on tour so to speak for the last twenty years or so, and has finally seen enough, and this time decides not to show up. Very well photographed and tautly directed.
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8/10
It's a knockout
eifert10 October 2004
The Set-Up is a great example of film noir. Like The Harder They Fall and Body and Soul , boxing takes center ring. The film stars Robert Ryan as an aging boxer who loves to fight.

The film is shot in what appears to be real time. The film doesn't attempt to be realistic. Instead Paradise City and the boxing matches are exaggerated by director Wise to great effect. The city seems too seedy and dark. The fights have no breaks in the action. No fancy footwork - just two sluggers slamming each other. The actors speak in a tough guy lingo that also seems purposely exaggerated. Red: I tell you, Tiny, you gotta let him in on it. Tiny: How many times I gotta say it? There's no percentage in smartenin' up a chump.

Ryan is perfect in the lead. I'm used to seeing him play bad guys. Before seeing this, I considered Ryan sort of a pretty-boy Sterling Hayden. But he really was a leading man with a likable quality.
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