Friday, March 25, 2011

Minced Meat

The Set-up (1949) - Wise

An aging boxer, Bill 'Stoker' Thompson (Robert Ryan), who is always one punch away from...greatness, feels good today in Paradise City. It don't matter that his fight is not the top billing (it is the last fight of the day actually), that his manager is taking bribes from a gangster named Little Man for him to take a dive, or that his girlfriend is having a second thought about staying with the man who just might easily be turned in to a human hamburger. No, he feels he can take his young opponent, really.

The Set-up reminds me of this quote by Johnny Caspar in Miller's Crossing:
It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?

Robert Wise creates a smoke-filled, sleazy, unglamorous, two-bit boxing noir. Citizen Kane-esque cinematography by Milton Krasner is just marvelous to look at. Fight scenes are realistic and crazy intense, amateurish and not stylized at all- no wonder Scorsese is a big fan of this. Fun to see Stoker's mood changing one minute to another, as he witnesses the joy and misery in fellow meatballs battling it out where paying spectators chant "KILL HIM!" from all four corners of the ring. Ryan, looking like a hero from Bellows' painting, slogs through a hellish fight, then being subject to the fury of the gang. Just how much of this can a man take? A great tight noir.

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