Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Set-Up

1949, US, directed by Robert Wise

It's hard to believe that the director of The Sound of Music (and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) started out making movies as spare and pitiless as this one (although there is a core of realism in The Sound of Music if you care to look past the whimsy). Robert Ryan does a phenomenal job as the never-made-it-big boxer convinced he can win one fight against a kid who's being set up for a title bout. His manager, however, has made a deal on the side with a local hood, assuming that his washed-up charge will go down without any financial incentive. The action is mostly in the ring: almost half the movie is a literal blow-by-blow account of the fight, with occasional asides as Ryan's wife wanders the streets, miserable at the life she's found herself leading. The dressing-room dialogue and interactions are especially treasurable, with some fine character turns; the other boxers include an unusually rounded black character by the cinematic standards of the time. The movie's a salutary lesson for those who labor under the impression that Raging Bull was somehow sui generis; Scorsese has no difficulties in acknowledging his debt to this standout genre flick, as well he should...

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States