Tuesday, February 20, 2007

THE SET-UP (RKO 1949) Warner Home Video

Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (1949) is a taut and pulsating 71 minute masterpiece that pulls no punches in exposing the seedy underworld of racketeering in professional boxing. All the essentials are present for one of the undisputed champions of film noir.

Robert Ryan stars as Stoker, a once optimistic pugilist who has fallen prey to two unscrupulous promoters fronting for gambler, Little Boy Jo (Alan Baxter). Jo buys Stoker’s complicity in throwing a fight. The fix will make Jo rich and he’ll pass on a percentage of that profit to Stoker for his ‘efforts.’

Stoker takes the bribe, before acquiring an ounce of integrity  and thereafter becoming driven to win. Audrey Totter costars as Stoker’s faithful wife, Julia Thompson. Win, lose or draw, Julia would rather her husband be a bum than a boxer. She implores him not to fight – then diligently stands beside him when the chips are down.

Ryan, still lean and muscled, was himself a boxer before he became an actor and the intensity in his performance delves deeply into experiences from that prior career. The film unfolds in ‘real time’ meaning that the action takes place in approximately the same amount of time it would take for the actual events to take place.

A tough, gritty noir with gut-wrenching exhilaration beyond its ringside, The Set-Up is required viewing; a great little programmer from RKO that comes out swinging and leaves a winner.

Warner Home Video has delivered a rather impressive B&W DVD. The gray scale is refined. Blacks are rich deep and velvety. Whites are relatively clean. Occasionally, film grain appears more harsh and gritty than one might expect. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Digital anomalies are not an issue for an image that overall is smooth and refined. The audio is mono but nicely cleaned up. An audio commentary is the only extra.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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