The Set-Up (1949)

Robert Wise directs Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter and George Tobias in this boxing noir where an over-the-hill longshot tries to win a fight, unaware his bum manager has taken a bribe from a gangster for him to lose on purpose.

Pessimistic, urban and stark; this primecut film noir doesn’t give its sucker a chance. From the outset even if he wins, he loses. The backstreets and nightlife of a seedy city are captured perfectly. The background characters’ universal zeal for riches, glory and blood is amplified in downbeat visual judgement. The greasy Greek chorus of sluggers, trainers and spectators witter on in that hard boiled streetslang – half poets, half lay preachers, all mopes. The real time storytelling gives the narrative a pull of relentless inevitably. We watch Ryan’s palooka fight and struggle in the moral quicksand, every effort and moment of hubris making his comeuppance a little more tragic, a lot more unavoidable.


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