Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Set-Up

For Christmas I got two dvd box sets, as I mentioned before. Warner's Film Noir Classics Collection's Volume 1 and Volume 3. Ten films between the two boxes of which I have seen only four so far. But with each film I feel like am learning something new or seeing something entirely different. In the Volume 3 box there is Nicholas Ray's film On Dangerous Ground. Robert Ryan stands out in this film, which is different from most noirs in that much of it takes place way outside the dark streets of the city. In fact at least half of the film is in snow covered rural farmland. After seeing Ryan's performance in that I definitely wanted to catch more of his films.

In the first Warner Film Noir Classics box is a great Robert Ryan film, The Set-Up. Directed by Robert Wise this film is an absolute gem. It's only 72 minutes long and flies along at that. Robert Ryan's performance is once again as good as you would hope and the boxing scenes have to be the most realistic set to film.

The story is simple 35 year old Bill "Stoker" Thompson is getting ready for a fight. His wife (the beautiful Audrey Totter) has become weary of the fight game. She is sick of seeing her husband beat up night after night and recalls an earlier fight when he didn't remember her name for two hours. But Stoker still has to fight, and he is convinced he is just one punch away from the big time. Problem is that his manager wants him to take a dive this night. He has money against Stoker and is working with Gangster Little Boy having assured his people that Stoker will lose tonight.

The 72 minutes go along in real time. You see clock at the beginning in the first shot and one at the end in the last shot that show exactly those 72 minutes have gone by. In that time you meet a myriad of characters. The woman outside who claims that she watches the fight with her eyes covered, though later you see her screaming for blood. You meet other fighters in the locker room all at different stages in the career or life, all hoping for something different out of the evening. The managers, the gangsters, and of course Stoker's wife Julie walking round teh city trying to decide whether or not she will go to the fight. Since it's a noir you could guess the ending won't be exactly a feel good ending, but it isn't entirely devistating either. Fate once again does deliver a good asskicking, but doesn't leave everybody entirely down and out.

Martin Scorcese joined Robert Wise on the commentary track for this dvd. He talks about how he screened this for his cast and crew during the filming of The Aviator and how the next morning people came up and asked him, "Do you realize thats a masterpiece?" He answered laughingly, "Yes, of course!"


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