By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde
The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
PICK OF THE WEEK
“The Set-Up” (1949, Robert Wise). Wednesday, April 10, 2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.). Boxing was a sport that the quintessential film noir tough guy Robert Ryan knew very well. Ryan was a four-year college boxing champion at Dartmouth, and later, when he became a Hollywood star, one of his finest roles and movies came in Robert Wise’s low-budget gem “The Set-Up,“ where Ryan played a seemingly washed-up prizefighter named Stoker Thompson – he’s been set up to lose what will probably be his last fight. Stoker’s craven manager Tiny (George Tobias) has been paid to insure Stoker throws the fight, by a crooked gambler (Alan Baxter), who has a big bet against the veteran. Tiny thinks it’s a sure defeat anyway. But Stoker still has his pride, still has his memories of what it was like when he was almost great and he doesn’t want to lie down in the ring, even if the mob will punish him severely if he doesn’t.
The film, which is based on a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, plays out in real time, beginning shortly before the fight, ending shortly after it. Wise, who is at his best as a director, gives “The Set-Up” relentless pace, tension, compassion and a marvelously seedy low-life atmosphere of matter-of-fact corruption and impending doom. Audrey Totter (in an untypical sympathetic role for this classic film noir dame) plays Stoker’s worried wife Julie. Wallace Ford is a salty old ring guy and Alan Baxter is Little Boy, the natty gambler who has the bet down and the muscle to back it up.
Ryan, one of the great film noir heavies, could play sociopathic bad guys like few other actors on screen. But here, he endows Stoker with the humanity and the grace under pressure that this great actor always had, but that we rarely see in his classic noir villain roles. Ryan plays this proud, beleaguered, supposedly over-the-hill fighter with dignity rather than sentimentality, with realism rather than melodrama, and with an intimate knowledge of the ways men can inflict bodily harm on each other for money.
Of all those tough and perceptive movies that show the dark side of professional boxing – “Body and Soul,” “Champion,” “Fat City,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and the others – “The Set-Up” may be the best. Once you hear the final bell, you’ll never forget it.
Wednesday, April 10: Robert Ryan Day
7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). With Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young and Gloria Grahame. Reviewed on FNB November 20, 2012. [Read more...]