The Set-Up

The Set-Up ★★★★★

A low-budget RKO film noir/boxing film directed by Robert Wise, this is one of the best of its kind. It takes place in one night where an aging (at 34) boxer played by the always impressive Robert Ryan has a match which he hopes will turn around a string of losses. He doesn't know that his manager has already fixed the fight with a local gangster without telling him, expecting he will go down in 2 rounds.

There were other noteworthy boxing films in this period ("Body and Soul", "The Champion","The Harder They Fall") but this is my favorite. It has a great cast - George Tobias and the raspy-voiced Percy Helton as his crooked managers, Alan Baxter as the smooth but ruthless crime, boss, Audrey Totter as Ryan's faithful but resigned wife, and Wallace Ford as the guy who preps the boxers before they enter the ring. Best of all is Ryan, who plays the aging boxer as someone who knows he is past his prime but still holds onto the dream of a comeback so he can leave with dignity.

The fight scenes were extremely well-done and photographed in all their brutality. The shots of the blood-hungry spectators (one of whom is Herbert Anderson who played the father in the sitcom "Dennis the Menace") are almost as compelling as the boxers. And for me, a very poignant note was the contrast between the boxers in the holding pen, who are all revved up, hopeful and supportive of each other, whether they are starting out or declining, versus the jaded handlers and managers who basically treat them as a commodity they can make money off of until they have hit their shelf life.

Also impressive is the gaudy ambience of Paradise City, a honky-tonk two-bit town with arcades, saloons and cheap hotels, with proper mix of garish working-class entertainments and dark alleys where shady deals unfold. So all in all, a great noir and a great boxing movie, with a standout performance by Ryan.

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