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The Set-Up (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive Collection’s September slate includes a Robert Wise film, The Set-Up. The film is found to be very influential for many director’s to follow. The Set-Up comes out swinging as one of the great films about the so-called sweet science. Robert Wise directs, shaping real-time events into an acclaimed and unsparing film-noir look at the stale-air venues, bloodthirsty fans, ring savagery and delusional dreams of boxing’s palooka world. Robert Ryan embraces perhaps his fi nest screen hour as Stoker. Audrey Totter, an icon of the noir genre like Ryan, plays Stoker’s steadfast wife. In a sport that would take their last flicker of dignity, the Thompsons are reclaiming theirs. The film was released on September 17th, and you can pre-order using the link below.

Film 

The Set-Up portrays the final fight in palooka pugilist Stoker Thompson’s (Ryan) career. While Stoker’s wife Julie (Totter) implores him to give up the ring, Stoker’s simple credo of “fighters gotta fight” keeps him tied to the squared circle. But Stoker is in the dark about this particular fight – his manager has promised a gangster that Stoker will take a dive. Too bad he didn’t tell Stoker.

Boxing clearly is one of the sports that proves itself welcome to cinematic excellence time and time again. Over the years, may of them have been seen as prestige. Its a well that is constantly returned to, having been a big presence even since the days of the silent film. For many, they think it starts with Rocky. But, no, the likes of Hitchcock (His silent film Ring is fantastic – seek it out) and Kubrick had touched it before Stallone made the big one. Enter legendary filmmaker Robert Wise and The Set-Up. And if you’re into films/film history, watching the film is somewhat of a marvel still in 2019.

Many might scoff, or roll an eye to a lot of what happens in The Set-Up. But, what really is happening, is like the title, setting up tropes and things that may become tired in the genre later on. Wise’s film features the tried and true norms of the genre like an old champ taking a fall for a mob boss, the has been trying to prove he still can go the distance and the wife/girlfriend who is just tired of all the drama that comes home with the sport. In Wise’s film, its fresh though. Its finding its way, its discovering it and laying the groundwork for the films that would later copy it.

Technically, the Wise film proves entertaining in many modern aspects. His coverage in the boxing match is quite thrilling and almost ringside or for the perspective of a referee. He gets many great frames of an artful look as well as a dirty, beaten one. There’s also the joy that one of the fight’s featured in the film goes for almost a full half hour and the way its paced and told in the story is entertaining as hell. Wise portrays parallels of the wife who skips the fight and the fighter trying against the odds. Surprisingly its as much the wife’s story as it is the fighter. And one would think this era may have forgotten her, but she’s just as interesting night to follow as the fight.

The Set-Up is pretty terrifically set up itself. Without the hand of Robert Wise behind the camera, who knows if it would have stood the test of time. But, to his testament, it does. If you’re into boxing or sports cinema, you should really go back and check this possibly long forgotten film out.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Set-Up makes its way to Blu-ray boasting a “Brand New Remaster” of the film. One could assume its a 2K transfer. It looks lovely. Pretty clear, sharp and crisp with solid detail work throughout. Grain seems to have been left in place for the most part. It moves smoothly and cinematically and is probably the best we could ask for at this juncture.

Depth:  Decent depth. Its no 3D marvel, but you’ll appreciate some of the spacing you are given, thanks to the film’s restoration hanging onto the grain structure.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty decently saturated and time to time can carry a heavy grain. There is a good accentuation and help with definition as well. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones keep a nice white/gray tone throughout. Facial features and textures are pretty decently captured in close ups. Some of the make-up effects show up really well in medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: The mono track is a rather solid one and pretty decently polished sounding given the age of the film. There’s a nice analog hiss as ambiance throughout. Aside from that, the only thing against it is how well the foley recording process and sounds were for the time. Given this film and everything, its rather terrific with your right set expectations.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a faint hiss in the background.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • by director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese

Summary 

Robert Wise’s The Set-Up deserves its spot in a conversation with Rocky and Raging Bull. The only thing that its at a disadvantage with is the evolution of filmmaking. Warner Archive Collection has given the film an excellent restoration and transfer in its first Blu-ray iteration. And while the bonus seems light, the commentary with Wise and Scorsese is an amazing attachment to this disc.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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