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      The Set-Up

      1949 1h 12m Drama List
      85% Tomatometer 13 Reviews 88% Audience Score 1,000+ Ratings A boxer on the wane, Bill "Stoker" Thompson (Robert Ryan) is determined to stay in the game, in spite of his wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), who wants him to leave the dangerous sport. Unbeknownst to Stoker, his manager, Tiny (George Tobias), has lost confidence in him and sets the fighter up to lose an upcoming match at the request of a local gangster. Certain that Stoker will meet with defeat, Tiny neglects to tell him about the shady deal, resulting in conflict both in and out of the ring. Read More Read Less Watch on Fandango at Home Buy Now

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      The Set-Up

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      Critics Reviews

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      Nick Schager Slant Magazine Its boilerplate fatalism undone by overbearing moralizing and the fact that Ryan's boxer is too one-dimensionally good to register as tragic. May 1, 2006 Full Review Sean Axmaker Stream on Demand [Director Robert] makes the most of his low budget by reveling in the shabbiness of the locations: the smoke-filled arena filled with bloodthirsty fans, the cramped, crowded dressing room, the anonymous streets... Aug 19, 2022 Full Review Nell Dodson Russell Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder The fight itself is as brutal a bit of screen fare as this writer has ever seen. It's the excuse for the whole picture. You can almost forget the flimsy plot by the time you sit through it -- provided you go in for stark realism. Dec 15, 2021 Full Review Elsa Branden Photoplay By the time the last savage punch is delivered, it's well established that prizefighting, as depicted here, is an extremely sordid business. Rated: 1/3 Aug 20, 2021 Full Review David Nusair Reel Film Reviews Filmmaker Wise, working from Art Cohn's screenplay, delivers a real-time drama that boasts plenty of appealing, attention-grabbing attributes... Rated: 2.5/4 Jan 6, 2021 Full Review Yasser Medina Cinefilia This boxing and film noir drama, directed by Robert Wise for the RKO, has a few factors that I find interesting, but I don't think it's that great with its plot about the redemption of an unsuccessful boxer. [Full review in Spanish] Rated: 6/10 Jul 20, 2020 Full Review Read all reviews

      Audience Reviews

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      Blu B All Time Classic. It's a very simple straightforward story that doesn't really take any twists or turns and takes a long time to carry out the main plot of a super short runtime. It still does manage to take a emotinal turn at the end that makes it heartwarming out of nowhere. Even with no music to speak of besides the opening his never feels dry but very deliberate for the most part. The editing is really good with the only minor weakness being it does jump between Julie and it does feel a bit meandering as what she does for the hour isn't that interesting or feels important. However it does add up in the end. Everything else is exceptional. This is shot like a noir and oozes atmosphere at times. The fight is amazing and is jaw dropping how good it looks. It really never drags at all. Ryan does a excellent job also and especially the acting in the ring is amazing. The clock opening and closing at the films EXACT runtime also was such a nice touch and attnetion to detail as well. Everyone should give this a try. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 01/10/24 Full Review Jay F Amazing. Another banger of a B from RKO. Wise's direction and Ryan's action in the ring are both tremendous. Perfectly demonstrates that the vast majority of "critics" have dog sh*t between their ears instead of brains. How anybody could give less than 4 stars is beyond my comprehension. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 11/28/23 Full Review Matthew B I have heard the term ‘bowling noir' to describe the small number of films noir that include bowling as a key element. A case might be made for a sub-genre of ‘boxing noir' for films such as Champion, Body and Soul, The Harder They Fall, The Killers and The Set-Up. What is the curious connection between the film noir and the sport of boxing? Both are marked by an obvious emphasis on toughness and masculinity. The boxing match and the film noir are usually resolved by violence. Both can involve intervention by organised crime. Both are frequently brutal and seldom honourable. The Set-Up was based on a 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Mancure March. March was unhappy about many of the changes made to the film version of The Set-Up. What March objected to most of all was changing the ethnicity of the central character. March's poem is about an African American boxer called Patsy Jones. In the film version the hero became Bill ‘Stoker' Thompson, and was played by the white actor, Robert Ryan. March understandably felt disappointed that the film threw away his message about "the whole basic issue of discrimination against the Negro". Wise said that he would have liked to cast a black actor in the role, but there were no major stars available at the time. He wanted to cast former boxer Canada Lee in the role, but RKO refused. As March later observed, "they are afraid of losing money in the Jim Crow South". That aside, Robert Ryan was in other respects a good choice for the role. He had been a good boxer in his youth, and was the undefeated heavyweight champion at Dartmouth College. Hal Baylor, who plays his opponent in the ring, had been a professional boxer. This was no accident. Wise was aiming for authenticity. To get a feel for the boxing scene, Wise spent time in the dressing rooms, listening to boxers before and after they had a match. He asked a former sportswriter Art Cohn to provide the screenplay. The fight scenes were choreographed by a onetime boxing professional, John Indrisiano. Anticipating High Noon, made three years later, the film is told in real time. As the action opens we see a clock in the town square, registering the time as 9.05pm. At the end of the film, the clock is seen again. The time is now 10.16pm, roughly the length of the movie. At various points in the film we see watches and clocks. This sense of real time adds to the suspense of the movie, and reminds us how much can change in the space of an hour. The future fate of a boxer can be made or unmade in that amount of time. He may rise to glory, or he may take a defeat that pushes him towards obscurity. He might even die or suffer permanent injury in that time. After the credits are finished, the camera slowly zooms in on the Paradise City AC Club. At the end, this shot will be reversed as the camera zooms out. We are briefly getting a closer look at a seamy side of life that many of us never experience. Paradise City is one of a number of ironically named locations in the film. What we are offered is a view of the microcosm and macrocosm of a corrupt society. The microcosm is the world of the boxers. The macrocosm is the outer world of the streets around the venue, a world that is not much better than what goes on inside the club. News vendors ruthlessly contend for sales on each other's pitches. The public eagerly take bets on the matches. Large sums of money can be staked on people getting hurt. The streets are filled with lurid neon signs. The only food that seems to be available for consumption is junk food. After establishing that Stoker works for cheats and chisellers, for the pleasure of a tawdry and bloodthirsty audience, we now get a chance to become acquainted with our patsy. Stoker (Ryan) is in his mid-thirties, and yet this is considered old in his profession. Stoker has cauliflower ears, and his face bears the ravages of previous defeats. Nonetheless he is confident he can win, and perhaps give up boxing one day. His ambitions run no further than owning a cigar stand. He tells his partner Julie Thompson (Audrey Totter) that he is one punch away from winning. "Don't you see, Bill, that you'll always be one punch away?" Julie retorts. If you are in any doubts that The Set-Up is an anti-boxing movie, look at the way that Wise portrays the audience members. Was there ever a more ghastly set of ghouls in a sporting movie? The camera returns to the same audience members throughout the movie, allowing us time to measure their worth. A blind man is the most bloodthirsty of them all. He takes pleasure in the injuries of the boxers, and encourages their opponents to go for their weak points. A fat man barely takes his eyes off the ring except to consume a large amount of food across the evening – popcorn, a hot dog, a hamburger, an ice cream bar, more popcorn, and a bottle of root beer. A wimpish man imitates the punches that he would never have the courage or strength to deliver himself. A posh couple are slumming it in the audience, enjoying the raw violence. Other members of the audience eagerly bet large sums of money on the winner, but since we know that the match is supposed to be rigged anyway, it is clear that they are all suckers. By contrast, Wise portrays the boxers in a sympathetic manner. The world outside may be hostile and uncaring, but within the dressing room they support one another. The fight takes place halfway through the movie. To create a sense of immediacy, Wise employed three cameras, one showing the ring, one showing the two fighters, and a hand-held camera for close-ups of the boxing action. Wise did not place the camera in the ring. The effect is to make the fighting seem visceral, but to give the viewer a degree of detachment from what is happening in the ring. Robert Wise was a former film editor, and undertook some of the editing for this movie. His experience shows. The fight scene is a masterpiece of concise editing, rapidly cutting between the fighters, the audience, the manager, the trainer, and the lizard-like face of the gangster, Little Boy. For all the violence of the combat between Stoker and ‘Tiger' Nelson (Hal Baylor), the viewer may feel some of the same excitement as the audience, and want to see Stoker prevail, even while knowing that a victory may cost him his life. Nonetheless this is not one of those boxing films in which the victor is uplifted or honoured by his win in the ring. Stoker emerges badly battered. His injuries look worse than those he inflicted on his defeated rival. Worse is to follow as he tries to avoid the vindictive gangsters who pursue him. Yet while the ending is stark and brutal, there is something strangely uplifting about it. In a curious way, Stoker has finally obtained release. As Julie tells him, "We both won tonight." I wrote a longer appreciation of The Set-Up on my blog page if you would like to read more: Rated 5 out of 5 stars 09/18/23 Full Review Matthew D Poetic and tragic story of an older boxer. American auteur Robert Wise's film noir boxing drama The Set-Up (1949) is really interesting. Wise sets a reflective, mature, and serious tone. From boxer's waiting to fight to the consequences of too many knockouts, The Set-Up is really contemplative. You see what a major event boxing fights were back in the day with ruthless crowds and rigged boxing gambling match-ups. It reminded me of Raging Bull and Cinderella Man a lot. Wise's direction is impressive as we get a quick scene setting of the rigged boxing match and gambling bets to a massive boxing sequence, then the bitter aftermath. The Set-Up is enthralling and heartbreaking. It really is one of Robert Wise's best pictures and an all time great boxing drama. Writers Robert Wise and Art Cohn adapted Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem with a sympathy for the beaten boxers. It's written with a sublime empathy for men getting pummeled, but with hopes of that one lucky punch that will get them dames, cash, fame, and a boxing championship bout. You can really tell the disdain Wise had for bloodthirsty boxing crowds. They call for blood, kills, and to aim for wounds like they're heartless demons. Editor Roland Gross does outstanding cuts midfight to splice together brutal slugging with ravenous spectators. It is astounding that The Set-Up tells a whole story in just 73 brief minutes. Robert Ryan is imposing as the older boxer Stoker Thompson, but really quite sympathetic. I have always felt terrible for boxers getting beaten badly in fixed fights and hurt after rigged gambles. Seeing Ryan's hurt expressions and agonized voice as Stoker is really upsetting. His fierce boxing is honestly super impressive. Audrey Totter is beautiful and hardened as Stoker's tough and fed up girlfriend Julie Thompson. She feels very modern for 1949 as she knows what she wants and says it. I like how earnestly worried Audrey Totter's Julie feels for Stoker. George Tobias is so sleazy as Stoker's crooked manager Tiny, who takes a bet against his own fighter. Percy Helton is fun as Stoker's other bent manager Red with his squeaky voice. Alan Baxter is chilling as the mob boss Little Boy, who is fixing fights and wanting revenge for broken deals. Hal Fieberling is huge as the massive young boxer Tiger Nelson that Stoker must fight. Dwight Martin's fat glutton is so funny as whenever they cut to him, he's eating another hot dog, hamburger, or popcorn bag. Lynn Millan is excellent as the mobster girlfriend Bunny, taking bets and screaming threats. Frank Richards is fantastic as the nice newspaper seller Bat, who always supports Stoker. The black and white art direction Albert S. D'Agostino and Jack Okey is striking with dark shadows in every corner and down the dreary alleys. Cinematographer Milton Krasner's stunning block and framing with sweeping camera moves are amazing. The Set-Up is one of the best looking black and white films I've ever seen. You can tell from the swift camera movements and slow crawls to the eerie blocking how The Set-Up influenced later films. I'd say Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were heavily influenced by Robert Wise's striking direction for The Set-Up. Set decorators Darrell Silvera and James Altwies put boxing gloves, towels, shorts, and timers all over for realistic props. Each place looks miserable and grim. Sound designers Clem Portman and Phil Brigandi make each punch land with a thick thud and the feral crowds holler out with loud echoing sound mixing. Gordon Bau's makeup gives Robert Ryan bloody injuries and Audrey Totter lovely blush and neat hair curls. In short, The Set-Up is vicious in its hits and tender in its care for boxers. You'll really look at bloodthirsty crowds differently after witnessing The Set-Up. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 05/14/23 Full Review Audience Member Fantastic cinematography, the best part of this film. The New York City street where the whole story takes place just drips with atmosphere. But ultimately, one needs to be a boxing fan to really get into it since the entire middle section of the film is the boxing match. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 01/21/23 Full Review Audience Member This gritty noir boxing flick excels at creating a near perfect atmosphere allowing the audience to soak in the seedier elements present in this local arena on a fight night. This was a much different look than I was previously familiar with from The Sound of Music and West Side Story director, Robert Wise. 6.5/10 Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 01/20/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

      Cast & Crew

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      Movie Info

      Synopsis A boxer on the wane, Bill "Stoker" Thompson (Robert Ryan) is determined to stay in the game, in spite of his wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), who wants him to leave the dangerous sport. Unbeknownst to Stoker, his manager, Tiny (George Tobias), has lost confidence in him and sets the fighter up to lose an upcoming match at the request of a local gangster. Certain that Stoker will meet with defeat, Tiny neglects to tell him about the shady deal, resulting in conflict both in and out of the ring.
      Robert Wise
      Richard Goldstone
      Art Cohn
      Production Co
      RKO Pictures
      Original Language
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Nov 11, 2016
      1h 12m
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