Director: Robert Wise
Director Robert Wise's ninth feature in five years, after a lengthy apprenticeship in the editing department, The Set Up was also his last at RKO.
The film started life as a poem by Joseph Mancure March and was subsequently turned into a screenplay by sportswriter Art Cohn depicting in 'real time' 72 crucial minutes in the life of Bill 'Stoker' Thompson, an ageing tanktown boxer.
Robert Ryan, one of the great film noir actors (Caught, Clash By Night, Crossfire, The Racket, On Dangerous Ground) plays the eternal optimist, 'Stoker' who deludes himself that he is "just one punch away from the title shot". Every time he steps out of the dingy dressing room into the ring he risks permanent brain damage but he has enough integrity to resist pressure to take a dive. Ryan, a former intercollegiate boxing champion, plays a difficult part with typically understated conviction and even manages to impart a sense of shabby nobility.
The fight game itself, however, is vividly depicted by Wise as a brutally realistic nocturnal world, constructed on studio sets-a seedy milieu populated by punch drunk ex-boxers, smalltime grifters and gamblers, and the smoke-filled stadiums are populated by sadistic fight fans (male and female) baying for blood.
While Ryan is slugging it out ringside his wife Audrey Totter, a mental punchdrunk, roams the streets contemplating an uncertain future without him and trying not to think of the certain physical battering that 'Stoker' is suffering.
Often compared with Scorsese's Raging Bull, a more apt comparison would be with ex-boxer John Huston's, Fat City (1972), similarly small-scale which the latter significantly described as being "about people who are beaten before they start but who never stop dreaming".