Sunday, December 01, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Set-Up (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The boxing film THE SET-UP (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

This was my first time to see this movie, which stars favorites Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter. I've held off seeing it in part as I've anticipated that at some point it would should up at a film festival, but since it came out on Blu-ray it was finally time to go ahead and check it out!

Ryan plays over-the-hill boxer Bill Thompson, who's convinced he's going to resurrect his fading career by winning his next fight.

Thompson's loyal wife Julie (Totter) can't stand watching her man beaten up fight after fight and decides to skip using her ticket to his latest boxing match. She instead spends the evening wandering the city.

As the fight unfolds in close to real time, Bill is improbably winning. Unfortunately, his manager Tiny (George Tobias) accepted money to throw the fight, being so sure that Thompson wouldn't win he didn't even bother to tell him. When Tiny is forced to spill the beans partway through the fight, Bill refuses to take the fall, but there will be consequences from the local crime boss (Alan Baxter) if he wins.

THE SET-UP is a short film, only 73 minutes, with its running time close to paralleling the time in which the story unfolds on the screen. Robert Wise directs with great attention to detail, painting an indelible portrait of the grimy, gritty boxing life, starting with the run-down hotel room across the street from the auditorium. It's a dark, dirty world filled with lowlifes, including many of the people shouting at the boxers from the audience.

Although much of the film is set in the boxing ring, my favorite scenes were watching Audrey Totter's walk through town. These moments provide a respite from the brutal story, but more than that, they're filled with great bits and pieces to look at -- a late-night hamburger stand, an electric trolley, teens out for a night of fun. Without any dialogue, Totter manages to convey the myriad feelings she's processing during her walk.

Ryan and Totter are simply superb as the couple whose lives and perhaps marriage have hit a crisis point. Bill counts on Julie's support and is crushed when her seat is empty, not quite realizing just how much it's killing her watching him continually beaten to a pulp, wondering if this is the night he won't make it home. They're both enormously touching.

The stark black and white cinematography of Milton Krasner is also impressive, from the scenes in the boxing ring to the evocatively lit scenes of Julie's walk.

All this said, THE SET-UP was a movie I admired but didn't greatly enjoy. While I appreciated many aspects of the film, noted above, this is quite a depressing movie, leading inexorably to a sad ending. With the exception of the lead actors, most of the characters are either awful or damaged. Additionally, with rare exceptions (mainly the ROCKY films) I don't especially enjoy boxing movies, and this one is especially brutal. Those who are up for this type of film will find it extremely well done, but it may not be for everyone.

The supporting cast includes Percy Helton, Wallace Ford, Herbert Anderson, and Darryl Hickman.

The Blu-ray is an excellent print. The disc includes a commentary track with director Wise joined by Martin Scorsese; this track originally appeared on the DVD release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I am pleased that you finally saw this movie which I like as well as admire, although it can be tough to watch. The Set-Up is movie is my litmus test for critics. If they don't appreciate it, they have to work their way back into my respect.

I started to listen to the commentary on my DVD a few years ago, but Marty was so effusive that it was embarrassing. Perhaps I'm a little more forgiving these days. After all, it is Christmas.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I am very interested to read your 'first-time' viewing comments, Laura, and I'm not a bit surprised to learn that you greatly admired the film but didn't particularly enjoy it. It IS a tough watch, there's no doubt, but I consider it the finest movie ever made around boxing. This film defines the term 'adult' where so often that term is misused.
I agree totally that Ryan and Totter are both superb and the scenes around town remind me very much of the paintings of American artist, Edward Hopper.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Great review, Laura. Lovely to see Audrey in a sympathetic role. Robert Ryan just perfect.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, enjoyed your thoughts on it. It can indeed be a little hard to watch. Interesting feedback on the commentary track, which I've not yet heard.

Thanks, Jerry! That is a great comment about Edward Hopper, I hadn't thought of that comparison but you're right.

Thank you, Vienna! I really liked both Totter and Ryan -- they made it easier for me to get through the subject matter because I was enjoying their performances.

Best wishes,

9:45 PM  

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