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The Set-Up (1949 film): Wikis


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The Set-Up

Promotional poster
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Richard Goldstone
Written by Poem:
Joseph Moncure March
Art Cohn
Starring Robert Ryan
Audrey Totter
George Tobias
Music by C. Bakaleinikoff
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Editing by Roland Gross
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) March 29, 1949
Running time 72 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Set-Up (1949) is an American film noir boxing drama directed by Robert Wise and featuring Robert Ryan[1] and Audrey Totter. The screenplay was adapted by Art Cohn from a 1928 poem written by Joseph Moncure March. The film is about the boxing underworld.



Stoker Thompson (Ryan) is a 35-year-old has-been boxer. His once-promising fighting career has come crashing to the end. Tiny (George Tobias), Stoker's manager, is sure he will continue to lose fights, so he takes money for a "dive" from a mobster, but is so sure that Thompson will lose that he doesn't tell the boxer about the set-up.

At the beginning of the fourth and last round of the vicious boxing match with the much younger and heavily-favored Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor), Stoker learns about the fix. Even though he learns that Little Boy (Alan Baxter), a feared gangster, is behind the set-up, Thompson refuses to give up the fight and mushes on.

In the end, he defeats Nelson, but Little Boy has Stoker's right hand broken as punishment.


In 1947, almost two decades after March's poem was published, RKO paid March a little over a thousand dollars for the rights.[1] Although March had had nearly a decade of Hollywood writing credits during the 1930s (working on what a 2008 essay in The Hudson Review called "one forgotten and now unseeable film after another"), RKO did not ask him to adapt his own poem.[1]

The screen adaptation including a number of changes from the poem.[1] The boxer's name was changed from Pansy Jones to Stoker Thompson; his race was changed from black to white, he went from being a bigamist to being devotedly married, and Jones' beating and subsequent death on a subway track was turned into an alley beating and a shattered hand. In a commentary accompanying the DVD for the film, Robert Wise attributes the change in race to the fact that RKO had no Afro-American actors under contract, but others point out that the film did have an African American actor (James Edwards) in a minor role as a boxer, and RKO had made a similar change for Murder, My Sweet.[1] March later commented on the changes for an Ebony interview, saying:[1]

not only [did they throw] away the mainspring of the story, they evaded the whole basic issue of discrimination against the Negro.... Hollywood’s attitude to the Negro in films has been dictated all too often by box-office considerations: they are afraid of losing money in the Jim Crow South.

The prizefight in the adaptation features an exchange of blows between Stoker and his opponent that is very close to the original, though the opponent's name is changed.[1]

Dore Schary, the uncredited executive producer who apparently got the project going at RKO before his 1948 move to MGM,[1] is credited with giving the film a real time narrative structure, three years before the device was used in High Noon.[1] Prior to The Set-Up, Richard Goldstone's production credits had been limited to a half-dozen Our Gang comedy shorts.[1]


Additional cast

Critical reception

When the film was released in its day The New York Times reviewed the drama and lauded the picture's screenplay and the realistic depiction of the boxing milieu; they wrote, "This RKO a sizzling melodrama. The men who made it have nothing good to say about the sordid phase of the business under examination and their roving, revealing camera paints an even blacker picture of the type of fight fan who revels in sheer brutality. The sweaty, stale-smoke atmosphere of an ill-ventilated smalltime arena and the ringside types who work themselves into a savage frenzy have been put on the screen in harsh, realistic terms. And the great expectations and shattered hopes which are the drama of the dressing room also have been brought to vivid, throbbing life in the shrewd direction of Robert Wise and the understanding, colloquial dialogue written into the script by Art Cohn."[2]

Jefferson Hunter in a summer 2008 essay for The Hudson Review, said:[1]

All through The Set-Up, we see confirmed the oldest of truisms about film, that it tells its stories best in images, in what can be shown—a crowd’s blood lust, the boxers’ awareness of what’s coming to them in the end—as opposed to what is spoken or narrated.

Notable quote

  • Red: I tell you, Tiny, you gotta let him in on it.
Tiny: How many times I gotta say it? There's no percentage in smartenin' up a chump.





In 2002, Variety magazine reported that Sidney Lumet had adapted a remake of The Set-Up, which he would direct; Benjamin Bratt was to star as the boxer, with James Gandolfini also attached and Halle Berry in negotiations.[4] Reports of a remake re-appeared in 2004, identifying Franc. Reyes as the director.[5][6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Joseph Moncure March: Poem Noir Becomes Prizefight Film from The Hudson Review
  2. ^ The New York Times. Film review of The Set-Up, March 30, 1949. Last accessed: December 14, 2007.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Set-Up". Retrieved 2009-01-11.  
  4. ^ Variety. "Lumet 'Set-Up' again, Helmer fighting for dream team in remake," September 19, 2002. Last accessed: December 14, 2007.
  5. ^ Movieweb. "Franc Reyes set to remake The Set Up," September 17, 2004. Last accessed: December 14, 2007.
  6. ^ National Association of Latino Independent Producers. "Latinos in The Industry, News" September 22, 2004. Last accessed: December 14, 2004.

External links



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