The Set-Up (1949, Robert Wise)

screened Friday, January 19, 2007 on DVD in Brooklyn NY IMDb Pretty brisk story, only 72 mins. told in "real time" about an aging boxer (Robert Ryan) going for that one last shot at glory despite the protestations of his gal (Audrey Totter). The first half is pretty much by the numbers, as Ryan bides his time in the locker room during a multi-bill evening as several other boxers take turns in the ring.

It's in Real Time folks, make no mistake about it

The real-time conceit strains around this point as the boxers each seem to be shuttled in and out in less time than it would take to introduce each fight. As each one leaves and returns with widely varying results (from scoring first round victories to being pummelled senseless) Ryan's face registers each result with Pavlovian resonance - after a while it becomes a tad comic in its predictability.

Goonish, expressive faces are Wise's stock-in-trade with this film as he portrays most of the crowd as a back of craven spectators: this fellow on the left is savoring his hamburger, a middle-aged woman yells "Kill him, take out his eyes", and one fellow is even listening to a ballgame on the radio, not paying attention to the fight in front of him. Not the most subtle kind of filmmaking, but effective in creating a sense of outrage and despair for Ryan's character as he tries to fight his way to the promised land.

Little does he realize that he was set-up to fall in the third round -- his team didn't bother to tell him, expecting he wouldn't last anyway. But he does last. Wise shoots these sequences with a physical brutality that may pass for realism, but Ryan's wild swings don't resemble anything a professional would do. They seem more like a stylistic gesture underscoring the desperation of this inhuman struggle. It's a gripping spectacle, and Wise's relentlessness sweeps you up in the immediacy in Ryan's plight, like watching a 5 year old crossing a highway. But it leads to an even more brutal outcome after the fight is over. Not as thoughtful a take on boxing as Robert Ryan's Body and Soul, but it's a gripping sensory exercise Eisensteinian image-response montage. yes