Greatest Film Scenes
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The Set-Up (1949)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Set-Up (1949)

In director Robert Wise's excellent, noirish realistic sports film drama, about corruption in the sport of boxing:

  • Robert Ryan as almost washed-up 35 year-old pugilist Bill "Stoker" Thompson and his concerned wife Julie (Audrey Totter) - the scene of their argument about an uncoming fight - she claimed that he was too old to fight; Bill was confident: "Look, Julie, I can take this kid like I told you! I can feel it! If I can belt him solid just once!"; she disagreed: "I understand that he's 23, and you're 35, Bill! Thirty-five in this business, you're an old man!..."; when he said he felt close to making a "top spot" in the sport, she discouraged him: "I remember the first time you told me that! You were just one punch away from the title shot then! Don't you see, Bill? You'll always be just one punch away! Oh, Bill, it ain't I wanna hurt you! But what kind of a life is this? Springfield, Middletown, Unionville, Paradise City! How many more beatings do you have to take?"
  • the set-up: Stoker's corrupt manager Tiny (George Tobias) neglected to tell his fighter that he should take a pre-arranged 'dive' in a fight and deliberately lose, presuming that he would lose on his own; he accepted bribe money from gangland members; the match was at the (fictional) Paradise City Arena, for $500 prize money, between "Stoker" and a younger 23 year-old opponent - the heavily-favored Tiger Nelson (heavyweight champion boxer Hal "Baylor" Fieberling)
  • the celebrated and extended 18 minute four-round boxing match, filmed in real time; it was a brutally-painful, bloody, sweaty and exhausting slugfest, with a few cutaways to views of crowd members in the audience
  • in the post-fight alleyway scene, the battered and bruised "Stoker" was confronted and surrounded by mobster thugs, and beaten for disobeying the set-up; they threatened to crush his hand with a brick to prevent him from ever fighting again ("You'll never hit anybody with that hand again!")
  • the concluding scene of a "Stoker" in the arms of a comforting Julie - he told her what had happened: ("They busted it! They busted it for good! With a brick! I wouldn't do it! I wouldn't do it!...They wanted me to lay down! I was takin' that kid!"); he then admitted: "I can't fight no more!"; she replied: "You won't have to fight no more, Bill. I'll make it up to ya, darling! We'll get that cigar stand you talked to me about or maybe even a piece of that fighter! It's gonna be alright Bill, you wait and see"; Bill still felt that he had been victorious: "Julie! I won tonight! - I won!"; she responded with the film's final line: "Yes, you won tonight, Bill! We both won tonight! We both won tonight!" -- with a last view of a neon 'Dreamland' sign, and the sound of sirens from an approaching ambulance


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