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Mike's Strange Cinema Cavalcade - THE SET-UP (1949)

the set-up 1949 review
A boxer finds himself at the centre of a betting scam.


Review by Mike Vaughn

Directed by: Robert Wise

Starring: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, Wallace Ford, Alan Baxter, Hal Baylor, George Tobias

the set-up 1949 bluray

Robert Wise is among the more prolific directors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, with an impressive four Oscars under his belt and a laundry list of classics including The Sound of Music, The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still, just to name a few. Truly he was a force in the industry. He tackled just about every genre you could think of, including sports in the case of The Set-Up (1949).

Stoker (Robert Ryan) is only in his mid-thirties, but by boxers’ standards is considered over-the-hill and generally washed up. Seeing a way to make more money, his crock of a manager starts taking bribes behind Stoker's back and makes a deal with a gangster to take a dive.

the set-up 1949 review

Wise pulls no punches when it comes to directing a stark glimpse into the world of boxing in a post WWII America as viewed by a washed-up boxer and the shady characters who live in his world. The camera work and visual style is part gritty noir with German Expressionistic lighting, shadows and mood but also very documentary-like when it comes to the boxing aspects. There’s a certain raw poetry to the way Wise directs the fight and meticulously edits it for maximum effect. It's all done so realistically you swear you can smell the smoke, blood and sweat that must be permeating the boxing hall.

[ READ MORE: The Quiet Art of The Sound of Music ]

But this of course isn’t a run of the mill boxing film cranked out by B and Z-grade studios. This film has a great director and a solid script which has a real human story at its heart, as well as a bang-up cast. Ryan gives arguably his best performance as a boxer beaten down in every aspect of his life. Ryan is wisely cast as the tough guy but there’s also some weight and pathos to his character that shines through. It’s a more layered job than one might expect.

the set-up 1949 review

Audrey Totter, best known for her roles in classic noirs The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Lady in the Lake (1946) also does a great job as Julie, the girlfriend of Ryan’s character. Your heart really breaks for her, especially at the film's great finale. You also have some great supporting actors like Wallace Ford and George Tobias.

[ READ MORE: Beyond The Sound of Music: 10 more essential movies from director Robert Wise ]

The Set-Up could have easily been a hum-drum boxing film but the talented Wise uses his skills as a visual storyteller to turn it into a classic. It just goes to show you how Wise could work in any genre you gave him, taking a good but - let's face it - kind of generic boxing story like The Set-Up and making it shine.

the set-up 1949 review

Warner Archives truly do this film justice with a sharp clean looking print. I honestly wasn’t able to find out if it’s a new 2K scan but I would wager to say that it is. The film is crisp looking and the new Blu-Ray really shows off Oscar winner Milton Krasner's (All About Eve, Three Coins in a Fountain) moody, noir cinematography. The audio is also good, sporting a nice 2.0 mono track. The only feature is a vintage commentary with Wise and Martin Scorsese. I am very excited they were able to port over this, because it really is an amazing commentary track. Two legends talking about their craft is amazing and is worth the price for this release alone. Overall, this is a must own movie and very much worth upgrading on Blu-Ray.

The Set-Up is on blu-ray September 24th from Warner Archive.



Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”


His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @castle_anger.




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