The Set-Up (1949)

72 mins | Drama | 2 April 1949

Director:

Robert Wise

Writer:

Art Cohn

Producer:

Richard Goldstone

Cinematographer:

Milton Krasner

Editor:

Roland Gross

Production Designers:

Albert D'Agostino, Jack Okey

Production Company:

RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

In Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem, which was the inspiration for this film, the protagonist boxer is a black man. According to modern sources, African-American actor James Edwards (1918--1970) was first slated to star in the picture as late as the fall of 1948, but was eventually replaced by Robert Ryan. Edwards, who made his motion picture debut in The Set-Up, appears as boxer "Luther Hawkins." In Mar 1947, Shepard Traube was announced in HR as the film's director. On 30 Jun 1948, Dore Schary resigned his post as RKO production head, citing new studio owner Howard Hughes's decision to shelve The Set-Up and two other projects as the primary reason for his departure. By the end of Jul 1948, The Set-Up was back on the RKO production schedule and was to be the first picture made on Hughes's new "modified production program." While he was a student at Dartmouth University, star Robert Ryan was an undefeated boxing champion. Former boxing professional John Indrisano, who is credited onscreen for "fighting sequences," coached Ryan for the production. Hal Fieberling, who plays "Tiger Nelson" in the picture, was also an expert boxer, according to LAT.
       When filming began in mid-Oct 1948, the part of "Julie" had yet to be cast, according to HR. RKO eventually borrowed Audrey Totter from M-G-M for the picture. Although a HR news item claimed that Totter's part was the only woman's role in the picture, several other actresses appear in the film. A NYT article claimed that Totter's wardrobe cost $5.95. Arthur ...

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In Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem, which was the inspiration for this film, the protagonist boxer is a black man. According to modern sources, African-American actor James Edwards (1918--1970) was first slated to star in the picture as late as the fall of 1948, but was eventually replaced by Robert Ryan. Edwards, who made his motion picture debut in The Set-Up, appears as boxer "Luther Hawkins." In Mar 1947, Shepard Traube was announced in HR as the film's director. On 30 Jun 1948, Dore Schary resigned his post as RKO production head, citing new studio owner Howard Hughes's decision to shelve The Set-Up and two other projects as the primary reason for his departure. By the end of Jul 1948, The Set-Up was back on the RKO production schedule and was to be the first picture made on Hughes's new "modified production program." While he was a student at Dartmouth University, star Robert Ryan was an undefeated boxing champion. Former boxing professional John Indrisano, who is credited onscreen for "fighting sequences," coached Ryan for the production. Hal Fieberling, who plays "Tiger Nelson" in the picture, was also an expert boxer, according to LAT.
       When filming began in mid-Oct 1948, the part of "Julie" had yet to be cast, according to HR. RKO eventually borrowed Audrey Totter from M-G-M for the picture. Although a HR news item claimed that Totter's part was the only woman's role in the picture, several other actresses appear in the film. A NYT article claimed that Totter's wardrobe cost $5.95. Arthur Weegee Fellig, who plays a timekeeper in the picture, was a well-known news photographer known as "Weegee," according to HR. The film was somewhat unusual in that narrative time and screen time are the same--seventy-two minutes. (Publicity for The Set-Up states that the film "covers 80 minutes, second-by-second of a ring-scarred bruiser's life," and adds that "incidents are filmed exactly as they happened, and in accurate chronological order.") In addition, no musical score was written for the picture; all the music presented is music heard by the characters within the scenes.
       HR news items report that just before the picture's release, RKO filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Screen Plays Pictures, charging it with copyright infringement in connection with its production Champion (see above entry). RKO tried unsuccesfully to secure a federal restraining order against the opening of Champion, a boxing drama starring Kirk Douglas. After several court delays, Judge Pierson M. Hall viewed both films and ruled that, while the majority of Champion was wholly original, a few scenes were very similar to ones in The Set-Up. He ordered that both RKO and Screen Plays recut the scenes in question and then dismissed the lawsuit. According to HR, less than one minute of footage in Champion and two words of dialogue were changed.
       Many reviewers commented on the stark and critical view of boxing presented in The Set-Up. The NYT review commented: "The sweaty, stale-smoke atmosphere of an ill-ventilated small-time arena and the ringside types who work themselves into a savage frenzy have been put on the screen in harsh, realistic terms." The Set-Up is often cited by modern critics as one of the most influential boxing films of its time. In a modern interview, Ryan cited his role in The Set-Up as his favorite. Director Robert Wise won the Critic's Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his work on the picture. The Set-Up was his last film for RKO. In 2002, RKO announced a remake of The Set-Up; as of spring 2005, Franc Reyes was attached as the director, but the film had not yet gone into production.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Mar 1949
---
Daily Variety
21 Mar 1949
p. 3, 9
Film Daily
22 Mar 1949
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1947
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 1948
p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1948
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1948
p. 8
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1948
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 1948
p. 11
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1949
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 1949
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 1949
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1949
p. 1, 7
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1949
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
6 May 1949
, 18024
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 1949
p. 1, 9
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 2002
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1948
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Mar 1949
p. 4550
New York Times
28 Nov 1948
---
New York Times
30 Mar 1949
p. 31
Variety
23 Mar 1949
p. 8
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Albert S. D'Agostino
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
C. Bakaleinikoff
Mus dir
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Joe Norin
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Fight seq
Unit pub
Dan Ullman
Scr supv
Grip
SOURCES
LITERARY
Inspired by the poem The Set-Up by Joseph Moncure March (New York, 1928).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 April 1949
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 29 Mar 1949
Production Date:
13 Oct--mid Nov 1948
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
15 March 1949
LP2147
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
72
Length(in feet):
6,529
Country:
United States
PCA No:
13478
SYNOPSIS

Outside a rundown boxing arena, where an evening of fights is about to begin, boxing manager Tiny and trainer Red discuss their aging heavyweight, Bill "Stoker" Thompson, who is schudeled to compete that night. A few minutes later, at the Ringside Café, Tiny accepts a fifty dollar bribe from gambler Little Boy, who wants Stoker to throw his four-round match and assure the up-and-coming Tiger Nelson a victory. Tiny agrees to Little Boy's stipulations that Stoker "go down" after the second round, then informs trainer Red that he is not going to tell Stoker about the deal, as he is sure the boxer will lose the bout anyway. In a nearby hotel, meanwhile, Stoker tries to convince his concerned wife Julie that even though he is thirty-five, he is still only "one punch away" from a "top spot." Julie, who has dutifully supported her husband's declining career, is unmoved by his boasts and begs him to retire from the ring. When Stoker insists on continuing, Julie sadly informs him that she will not watch him fight that night. Disturbed by Julie's words, Stoker grows pensive while being prepped in the arena's crowded dressing room and listens thoughtfully to the hopeful, nervous chatter of his fellow boxers. Before Shanley, a young and frightened boxer, leaves to make his professional debut, Stoker notices that the light has gone off in his hotel room and happily assumes that Julie has changed her mind about the fight. As Julie is about to enter the arena, however, she hears the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd and retreats in disgust. After Shanley returns to the dressing ...

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Outside a rundown boxing arena, where an evening of fights is about to begin, boxing manager Tiny and trainer Red discuss their aging heavyweight, Bill "Stoker" Thompson, who is schudeled to compete that night. A few minutes later, at the Ringside Café, Tiny accepts a fifty dollar bribe from gambler Little Boy, who wants Stoker to throw his four-round match and assure the up-and-coming Tiger Nelson a victory. Tiny agrees to Little Boy's stipulations that Stoker "go down" after the second round, then informs trainer Red that he is not going to tell Stoker about the deal, as he is sure the boxer will lose the bout anyway. In a nearby hotel, meanwhile, Stoker tries to convince his concerned wife Julie that even though he is thirty-five, he is still only "one punch away" from a "top spot." Julie, who has dutifully supported her husband's declining career, is unmoved by his boasts and begs him to retire from the ring. When Stoker insists on continuing, Julie sadly informs him that she will not watch him fight that night. Disturbed by Julie's words, Stoker grows pensive while being prepped in the arena's crowded dressing room and listens thoughtfully to the hopeful, nervous chatter of his fellow boxers. Before Shanley, a young and frightened boxer, leaves to make his professional debut, Stoker notices that the light has gone off in his hotel room and happily assumes that Julie has changed her mind about the fight. As Julie is about to enter the arena, however, she hears the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd and retreats in disgust. After Shanley returns to the dressing room, glowing with victory, Gunboat Johnson, a washed-up middle-weight whose idol is a champion boxer who once suffered twenty-one losses in a row, is pummeled to defeat. Restless and depressed, Julie, meanwhile, walks the seedy streets near the arena, stopping on a bridge to watch the passing trolleys below. Back at the arena, two more fighters meet their opponents, one losing, the other winning. Stoker then enters the ring for his bout and is dismayed to see that Julie's seat is empty. As Stoker receives his last-minute rubdown, Little Boy and his girl friend Bunny place bets against him from the stands. Still unaware of Tiny's deal, Stoker ignores Red's advice to "stay away" from Nelson and goes after his opponent with conviction. By the end of the second round, Stoker has Nelson, who was told by Little Boy to go easy on Stoker during the first two rounds, against the ropes. Stoker continues to fight hard in round three, but is nearly knocked out by Nelson, who then calls him a "fink." Fearful now that Stoker may win the bout, Tiny tells him about Little Boy's deal and begs him to "lie down" in the last round. Although exhausted and bleeding, Stoker instead hammers Nelson with a volley of punches and knocks him unconscious. Stoker's unexpected glory is shortlived, however, as he is immediately condemned by an angry Little Boy. Aware that Little Boy's thugs are waiting to attack him outside, Stoker tries to sneak out of the arena, but becomes trapped in an alley. After Stoker, who has been beaten and pinned to the ground by the thugs, manages to slug Little Boy in the face, the enraged gambler crushes Stoker's hand with a brick, thereby ending his career. Sometime later, Julie sees Stoker stumble out of the alley and rushes to his side. As she holds her battered but proud husband in her arms, she asks his forgiveness, then assures him that they "both won tonight."

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GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
Boxing


Subject

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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