The Set-Up

The Set-Up ★★★★½

Avenging angels duke it out against mere mortals in Paradise City. 

“The Set-Up,” Robert Wise’s tale of a boxer on his last legs, clocked in with the concept of a drama unfolding in real time three years before “High Noon.” This idea alone is enough to put “Set-Up” in a weight class with the cinematic classics.

Wise goes a step farther, though — employing the burden of the seconds passing as a constant reminder of fragile mortality. This - like the sharp black and white cinematography - stands in contrast to the godlike framing of the boxers featured. 

Wise and cinematographer Milton R. Krasner film the work’s central skirmish as if it were a Renaissance fresco depicting a battle between eternals. As Scorsese would do decades later in “Raging Bull,” the blond young opponent of Tiger Nelson appears as if wearing a halo under the intensity of the arena lights. 

This, then, puts Robert Ryan’s veteran boxer, Stoker, as the figurative Jacob. A man of mud, clay and mortality — there is not even a folly’s worth of hope that he will win out against such pure divine power. 

His reward will never be victory, but rather - the blessing of having faced heaven itself… and come out the other side as a mere man. 

Sweaty Dudes Cinema: Desperation over the realization of mortality no doubt makes any man sweat. 

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