What You Need To Know:
THE SET-UP is a very gritty movie, but gritty in 1949 was a less intense that it is today. Because of the heightened choreography of boxing and other fighting in today’s movies, THE SET-U seems more amateur, even though it’s more realistic. That said, Robert Wise is a great director and the movie highlights the sinfulness of man. THE SET-UP also has one bright beacon of hope in a boxer who has found the Bible and faith. MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.
THE SET-UP is about a down-and-out boxer who keeps thinking he needs just one more chance, but his wife wants him to stop getting his brains beat up, while his manager is making deal with the local crime lord to benefit from the boxer’s failures. The movie powerfully shows the underside of the life of boxing complete with the surrounding gambling venues, wanton women, alcoholism, and seedy environs. Since the filming of boxing matches in the later ROCKY films and other movies has gotten so choreographed and intense, THE SET-UP, though very violent, seems mild by today’s standards.
The terrific actor Robert Ryan plays Bill “Stoker” Thompson, a down-and-out fighter going from one fringe boxing arena to another trying to win against all odds while his wife, Julie, begs hm to stop. Julie explains that the last time Stoker lost a match he couldn’t remember her name for almost an hour. This abuse of boxing of the brain is called punch drunk. Now, Stoker has another match in the sin city of Paradise City.
Set in Los Angeles, Paradise City looks like Coney Island in the 1950s. Cheap arcades, food stands, cigar stands, bars, and other reminders that these are the bottom feeders of society. Stoker leaves a bar to go to Julie, and she appeals to him again to leave boxing. He gives her a ticket for the match, but she says she doesn’t want to go.
Meanwhile, his manager, Tiny, is making a deal with the goon who works for Little Boy, the local crime lord, and accepting money for Bill to throw the match in the third round. The problem is that Tiny refuses to tell Bill.
Bill goes to the arena and into the changing room, which is filled with over-the-hill boxers and a few young Turks, such as Bill’s upcoming opponent, Tiger Nelson. One of the boxers is almost completely punch drunk and is carried back from his match completely comatose and rushed off in an ambulance. He doesn’t even remember his name. Another boxer carries the Bible, which the other men mock. His refrain is that it’s a million to one chance, which are pretty good odds, stretching Pascal’s Wager to the nth degree.
Stoker’s match comes at the end of the various matches. He has been looking for Julie the whole time, but she’s not there. The audience boos him and cheers when his opponent, the handsome Tiger Nelson, comes out and enters the ring. The match itself is grueling, stretching every minute of real time in painful punches to the head and the body. By the end of the second round, Stoker has fallen multiple times, and no one thinks Stoker can make it. The third round proves them wrong, and he beats Tiger to a pulp. Little Boy says he wants to see him after the event, because Stoker welched the deal that Little Boy paid Tiny to get Stoker to take a dive in the third round. Stoker says he didn’t know anything about the set-up. In fact, Tiny had not told him because he was so confident Stoker would lose and did not want to give Stoker any of the money.
Stoker changes into part of his clothes and sneaks out, only to run into Little Boy and his henchmen and Tiger in the back alley. The questions are whether he will survive the back alley beating and whether Julie will come back to him.
THE SET-UP is a very gritty movie, but gritty in 1949 was a lot less intense that it is today. Because of the heightened choreography of boxing and other forms of fighting in today’s movies, THE SET-UP seems more amateur, even though it’s more like a real boxing match. Robert Ryan was a real collegiate boxing champion, but as my father said, movies are not real life, and the fight scenes have to be much more intense than they are in real life.
That said, Robert Wise is a great director and the movie highlights the sinfulness of man. THE SET-UP also has one bright beacon of hope in the boxer who has found the Bible and faith, a million in one chance. MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.