Noir Climbs In The Ring
80 Savage Minutes That Is The Set-Up (1949)
Boxing as the grim game movies would disdain until Humphrey Bogart finally called for the sport's outlawing in The Harder They Fall. Was this partly one industry wanting to get rid of competition that was the other? After all, small arenas in "tank towns" and elsewhere drew crowds that weren't attending theatres, so why not relieve them of a less healthy choice? Boxing being a grubby business, a lot of people saw bouts on screen who wouldn't dream of attending an actual match (myself included), that gulf widened as filmmakers increasingly associated the "sport" with both organized and petty crime. For purposes of The Set-Up, director Robert Wise extended criticism to watchers as well, his camera scanning over blood thirst among men and women in the stands. The idea apparently was to make any of us ashamed to look at fights, let alone support human suffering, and the underworld, by paid attendance to matches. Critics hailing The Set-Up noted parallel with gladiatorial combat where merciless crowds gave thumbs-down to fallen warriors.
Things got to a point where boxing itself was an affront to civilized conduct, reason I suppose why we have less nightly bouts in those tank towns that are presumably still on the map (but what about brutal bare-knuck matches held nightly in gather spots nationwide, and broadcast as often to TV viewing?). The Set-Up got into a grudge match of its own when UA's Champion was set to open and RKO boss Howard Hughes sniffed infringement on part of creative crew of that ring drama. There was basis to the flap, Champion director Mark Robson having been at RKO till recent, and with access to The Set-Up's script in development. Court decision was for RKO, and UA had to trim offending portions from Champion. On-canvas UA would call Hughes a big bully, which he probably was (remember the kibosh HH put on Red River's original ending), and a bad sport besides for rushing out The Set-Up just ahead of Champion's bow. All of that is forgot now, and we're left with apple-orange that is these two, both with considerable merit, and available to HD-viewing (The Set-Up via Warner Instant, Champion on Blu-Ray).