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A Movie A Day: THE SET-UP (1949)
Remember, now. Take it easy for two heats, then you can finish him. That’s the set-up

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Yeah, it’s late today, but it’s here. Can’t blame me, can ya’? Had a full, full day exploring Vegas. Caught the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton a scant few days before it’s shut down forever (it was pretty sweet if a little overprised… gotta love the Klingon attack ride, but the Borg one sucked a little bit) before some gambling, some great Indian food and, finally, Penn & Teller’s awesome show at the Rio. I’m a huge fan of their Showtime series BULLSHIT! and their live show was awesome. They hung out afterwards talking and autographing programs… Yeah, Teller spoke to me! I feel blessed… Apparently they are about to begin the next season… Anyway, you see my full, packed day, but I still found time to watch Robert Wise’s THE SET-UP, about a washed up boxer played by the awesome Robert Ryan. See how clever I was programming this after SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, another Robert Wise boxing flick involving a pay-off of some sort.

What I loved about this film was the simplicity of the story. It’s a little refreshing coming off of a run of really great, sprawling semi-epic dramas, like yesterday’s film. Here you have a story told in one night, a story about a boxer who is set to take a dive, but doesn’t know it. Robert Ryan is Stoker, a 35 year old boxer who is still stubbornly holding on to the dream of becoming a champ even though he hasn’t won a fight in recent memory. His wife, Julie (played by Audrey Totter), is fed up with this life, not being able to stand the bloodlust of the crowd as her husband gets pummeled night after night. She can’t stand it anymore, but his point is that he’s a boxer. That’s what he does… maybe someday he can settle down, start his own cigar stand or something, but he won’t ever willingly go down this path. He’s past his prime already, but the carrot is always just out of reach. His dickhead management are introduced by having one of them, George Tobias, inadvertently crossing out Stoker’s name on the bill when striking a match. Or maybe advertently. He is a douche. He has accepted a bribe, but decided to not tell his fighter. It’s not because he believes Ryan is such a noble gentleman. Hell no. It’s because he knows the old wash-out will dive by himself and he can save cutting him in on the take. What he doesn’t understand is that Ryan is fired up. He’s out to prove to his wife that he can do this.

Much like yesterday’s movie, Wise doesn’t show you the fights going on. You see the boxers in the locker room as they one by one go out and fight. They run all types… You have the title bout with a young enthusiastic black dude, his life ahead of him, dreams ripe for the picking. You have the preliminary bouts which consist of another young guy a kid entering the ring for the first time. He’s nervous, throwing up beforehand, but it goes very well for him. Then you have another older fighter who is in an even deeper set of denial than Ryan. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the exact same level, but Ryan sees what happens to this poor guy, sees how out of it he is when they carry him back in from his “this is the one, I’m sure it is” fight and, I’m sure, sees what his wife sees every time he is knocked silly. Maybe he sees this and draws back a little. The point is we see the results of the fights without seeing the fights themselves. Even the winners come in bloody and swollen. The roar of the crowd is not friendly, but angry, full of hatred. It’s the kind of roar you imagine when you read about the gladiators fighting to the death. They want to see someone hurt real bad. It all serves to psychologically torture us, the audience, and dread Ryan’s turn up to bat. No, don’t go out there! You’re old! You’re supposed to take a fall, so even if you somehow pull this off it’s not going to turn out good for you anyway! The only time we cut out of locker room is to follow Ryan’s wife as she takes a walk around the gorgeous RKO noir city street sets in great black and white. The blacks are deep, shadows swallowing people whole. She first attempts to go and watch the fight, composing herself for her husband’s sake, but entering the crowd and hearing them calling for blood, she just can’t take it and wanders the city, even going so far as to subtly consider suicide after being reminded of her husband’s pending doom everywhere she looks (from a radio in a newsstand discussing a current fight to a Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots style game in a game hall).

When the time comes, Ryan steps into the ring and shows every bit of heart we expect him to. Now he’s fighting a young kid, Tiger Nelson (played by real life heavyweight champion Hal Baylor), but Nelson isn’t his main competition. The crowd is.

My God, the picture Wise paints of us, the voyeurs, is not a pretty one. The people in the crowd are animals, shouting for death, blood, brutality. There’s a sweaty fat man who shovels food into his face, something new and different each time we see him, lost in the battles taking place in front of him. There’s a blind man having the fight repeated to him as he clutches his cane and stares out with dead eyes, screaming for more. There’s a housewife who is almost zealous, cultlike, in her obsession with the brutality on display. Those last two are my favorites. Check ‘em out:

The fight between Ryan and Baylor is everybit as dirty and raw as we were worried it was going to be, incredibly well choreographed. It looked to me like these two men were really going after each other, landing punches and going fullsteam into this sequence. Some people might read the ending as being a downer, but I saw it in a completely different way. I think it’s very hopeful and that the characters might be better off than they were when the picture started. Final Thoughts: I’ve talked about Robert Ryan a lot in this column. He was a fanastic actor and the more I see of his work the more depressed I get that he’s not more well known or respected. He’s wonderful here, Robert Wise’s direction is outstanding, the supporting cast are great, the black and white photography by Milton R. Krasner is shocking and perfect… And it’s all packed into a tight 72 minute story. It’s a fascinating angle into a boxing flick that completely works, thanks to all the above-mentioned people involved as well as Art Cohn’s great script.

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Thursday, August 28th: THE DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER (1941) Friday, August 29th: CAT PEOPLE (1942) Saturday, August 30th: CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) Sunday, August 31st: THE 7TH VICTIM (1943) Monday, September 1st: THE GHOST SHIP (1943) Tuesday, September 2nd: ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) Wednesday, September 3rd: BEDLAM (1946) I’ll probably be catching THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER tomorrow on the plane back home, so look for that one late tomorrow night. We follow over Robert Wise once more. He directed today’s picture and edited tomorrow’s. See you folks then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me

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