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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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