The Set-Up is about washed-up 35 year old Stoker Thompson. This is back in the day when 35 year olds could own a house, a housekeeper and your wife’s societal forced devotion. But, Robert Wise wasn’t having any of this. In The Set-Up, Stoker is an older boxer wanting to get out of the life. He just has to throw a fight for the mob.
Robert Wise made this movie for RKO as his send-off before heading to FOX and bigger studios. But, what made Wise choose to direct this film? Especially since its source poem was a kinda racist 1920s look at how the Ivy League viewed boxing. Naturally, this meant RKO had to make changes. Names were shifted, as well as racial identities. Plus, the film omitted elements of bigamy and death from the final product.
Boxing movies are a cornerstone of American film. However, one has to appreciate the down-and-dirty nature of The Set-Up. Told in real time, the movie takes audiences deep into the discomfort of being on your last fight. Everyone is an enemy and you just want to grab your gear to split after the fight.
The gangland heavies are interesting, but they only exist as heavies to make Robert Ryan sweat through his 1940s trunks. Warner Archive has given The Set-Up the kind of home video release it deserves. The 1080p transfer means the film has never looked better. What’s even better is the classic commentary between Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese that was ported over from the DVD. If you’re looking for crisp 40s boxing action with a touch of melodrama, look no further.