THE SET-UP is a genre film with style, a sports noir, based on a poem of all things, and directed by the versatile Robert Wise. Though shot in film noir tradition with film noir themes of steep odds and tragic heroism, THE SET-UP is primarily a sterling example of a boxing picture, and it is a widely-acknowledged inspiration for Martin Scorsese while shooting RAGING BULL. (I guarantee you that Quentin Tarantino saw it too, when considering Bruce Willis’ storyline in PULP FICTION.)
In this movie, Robert Ryan plays Stoker, an over-the-hill boxer who discovers that he’s expected to take a dive by a powerful gangster. He’s a loser several times over, but he’s not about to lose for lack of trying – but there’s a price to standing up against the underworld. That price is apparent through the pummeling Ryan takes throughout the movie. Ryan was seldom better cast – imposing enough to be credible as a professional boxer, but wearing his heart on his sleeve, lacking of the drive and the viciousness of the most successful of punch-drunk champions. The soul is in his eyes; the fists only secondary implements by contrast. An essential Robert Ryan performance for longtime fans and soon-to-be fans of one of the most fascinating, thoughtful, and under-acknowledged of old-Hollywood film stars.
– Jon Abrams.
THE SET-UP plays at 5pm this evening at the IFC Center in New York City. It isn’t on Blu-Ray yet but you can still find it on the DVD format.