Home How It Works Previews Writings Reviews Students Programs e-mail us!THE SET-UP
Starring Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter; dir; Robert Wise
Forget subtext, in The Set-Up the work is all done for you. The pathos of a fighter who doesnt know hes finished is all up there on the screen, exemplified by Audrey Totters unintentionally ironic, self-serving closing line, "we all won tonight". As we look out her window at the arena the neon sign Dreamland figures prominently, and that window is in a fleapit whose own neon advertises Cozy Hotel.
Of course its a tawdry, sordid atmosphere, both backstage and ringside you can smell the lineament and stale sweat in the set design. Equally palpable are the fight scenes, whose visceral nature clearly was an influence on Raging Bull.
Today the further away we get from it the more bizarre this underground white world looks. Wise was notable for amalgamating black characters seamlessly without condescension, viz his Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), and the real interest in the film seems to be the denizens of this world. Several of the characters emerged from Wises research into this environment. (You gotta love Ryans cauliflower ear makeup!)
One of the strongest characters in The Set-Up is time itself. Its well known that the film essays a realtime experience through the opening and closing shots of clocks traversing the movies actual running time. But clocks are everywhere in the films mise-en-scene and this preoccupation even extends to a poster Ryan glimpses from the ring in a vulnerable moment as it asks, mockingly, 35 and tired?.
The futility of all this, contrasted with the nobility Ryans Stoker brings to this cesspit, is strangely ennobling and fortunately, fittingly, what little gloss there is in The Set-Up attaches entirely to the broken ex-boxer as, at the end, this Stoker is at least able to walk into a new life under his own steam.
- Roger Westcombe