An over the hill boxer battles against all odds.
Stoker Thompson is a wreck. A nearly washed up 35 year old boxer who has lost so many fights even his girlfriend tells him to take a dive. His manager is so sure that he’ll lose that he arranges for Stoker’s next fight to be thrown, without telling Stoker about it. This fight is against up and coming fighter Tiger Nelson. The only problem is, Stoker Thompson is determined to go out with a bang and has other ideas about his next fight. What will happen to him if he manages to win?
The Setup was one of several films made in the late ’40s and early ’50s that showed the corrupt, seedy underbelly of professional boxing. Mobster fixed fights, tomato matches (fights against wildly mismatched opponents) and corrupt judging were so common that the entire sport was at risk of collapse.
This film does not pull any punches about how nasty the boxing world was at the time. Frequently run by gangsters, boxing clubs were stocked with aging journeyman boxers who were routinely set up as punching bags to build up the reputations of the new generation of champions. The inmates of these clubs often had no choice, with few useful skills beyond fighting. Often these matches were preordained so that even if one of these guys thought he had a chance, it was made known that he would take a dive, or else. Or else usually meaning at least a savage beating and broken bones or at worst, a cement grave at the bottom of a river. If a palooka was a good boy and took his beating and made the champ look good, he would get paid out as the loser of one of these ginned up title bouts.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because a certain movie made in the 1970s resurrected these themes and storyline. A little film known as Rocky hit on these same elements with spectacular success. Underdog against the champ, little guy against the world. You can see that this film was an influence on the Rocky crew.
The film was based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March. A few things were changed, such as the protagonists name, his race and a few seedier elements of his personal life and eventual fate. The film does retain the run down savagery of the poem and also shows the battered nobility of a little guy that refuses to give in.
Visually, this is a boxing film through and through. The film starts with the clang of a boxing bell and a pair of fighters spar as the credits roll. The film is well shot, with type of dynamic energy unique to this type of sports film. The cuts and camera angles are extremely effective at showing the speed and brutality of a boxing match. Showing the reactions of the crowd as well as the fighters from multiple angles with rapid cutting between multiple cameras. The choreography is well done and actually manages to look like an actual boxing match (not always the case with these films.)
Verdict: 3.5 Gavels out of 5
I’m not normally a sports film fan, but this one is really well done. Good camera work and lighting with an effective cast. The dark and pessimistic storyline fits well with the film noir aesthetics.