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Set-Up, The  (1949)

 

Rating: NR

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: July 6, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Boxing Wednesdays. Wrestling Fridays. Stoker Thompson is on Paradise City’s Wednesday card, fighting after the main event. He’s been 20 years in the game and is sure he’s just one punch away from big paydays. But there’s one thing that Stoker doesn’t yet know: his manager wants him to take a dive tonight.

 

CRITIQUE

 

The Set-Up is an early film from director Robert Wise, who would go on to make such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music, among others. He was an editor before becoming a director, and cut together such pictures as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Citizen Kane, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and The Magnificent Ambersons. Those who know him only for his bigger, later efforts, will be curious to see this early effort. The atmosphere he creates, the smoky din of the arena, the bloodthirsty crowd, the absence of sentiment, pervades every frame of the film. There is a sense of doom that sets in from the moment the film opens, and that is only heightened by the real time device Wise expertly uses (arguably better than even High Noon, the film that is always cited for using the same device).

 

In The Set-Up, like all great noir pictures of the late 1940’s, we see things that will go on to become clichés. One can find shades of this film in many of the great boxing movies that would follow, even in Pulp Fiction. Robert Ryan, always an underrated actor, gives one of his best performances as the over-the-hill Thompson. Audrey Totter is also good as Stoker’s suffering wife, who only wants him to quit the fight game for the good of his health. The fight scenes in The Set-Up are well staged. So well, in fact, that they do not look staged at all. Ryan himself was a boxer before becoming an actor, and as a student held the national collegiate boxing title for four years. The fight between Stoker and his young opponent is a brutal one, and in the end both fighters look like they have gone a few long rounds.

 

The Set-Up is a film to be seen for just how much can be done with a simple story.  What looks simple on the surface hides much underlying drama. With skillful direction and great performances all around, this classic is as good as Body & Soul, Raging Bull, and any of the countless boxing films that would follow it.

 

THE VIDEO

 

The video left something to be desired. The original 1.33:1 ratio is retained, so there is no cropping, but the film’s black and white photography is not as vibrant as it could be. The whites are not as sharp as they could be, and the blacks are not as deep. The transfer is crisp, but not as deep as it could have been.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.  The presentation works well here, all the fight sounds and the roaring of the crowd comes through sharply.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Commentary by director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese: Wise talks about how the project came to him and what went into making the film, and Scorsese talks about the context of The Set-Up and its place in cinematic history.

 

Like all of these recent film noir releases, the commentary track is excellent, but the overall features are lacking. There is no theatrical trailer, no featurette, nothing outside of the commentary that talks about the film.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

This little seen film is a must for noir fans and fans of boxing films. The atmosphere Wise creates is remarkable, and the real time effect works to great effect. The commentary track is interesting, and the overall DVD is worth a look.

 

VERDICT: RECOMMENDED

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

7

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

6

OVERALL

8

 

:: Merchandise