The Set-Up

The Set-Up ★★★

Stoker Thompson is 35 years old, "too old", he's told, to be a boxer, but he knows — just knows — he's but one punch away from glory. What he doesn't know is that his manager has taken money from a mobster for Stoker to throw the fight; the manager doesn't tell this to Stoker, sure as he is his fighter doesn't stand a chance anyway.

The Set-Up is 73 minutes long, but plays like a short film by virtue of its straightforward premise, and it being centred around a single cinematic sequence: the extensive, integrally filmed four-round fight between Stoker and 'Little Boy'. The match isn't the best choreographed one in film history or anything, but it's dynamic, engaging, and tells a story without (many) words. Director Robert Wise has a lot of fun interspersing the blows with showing the reactions and facial expressions those provoke from the colourful, priorly set-up (…) cast of audience members, which includes a blind man whose friend commentates the match for him, and an older lady who keeps cheering "Kill him, kill him!"

Wise's boxing film differentiates itself from other boxing films by its grim, gloomy, and bare atmosphere, which culminates in its harsh final act that ultimately positions The Set-up as a noir hybrid. Audrey Totter's role as Julie, Stoker's worried-about-his-health girlfriend, is underdeveloped and underwhelming, just like the film as a whole is (a little bit), but I'd still recommend it, if only for that impressive bout.

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