The Set-Up Delivers a Knock-Out Punch
Sunday’s installment of Noir Alley on TCM (10am ET) is a don’t-miss (set those DVRs now). The Set-Up (1949) stars the great Robert Ryan as Bill ‘Stoker’ Thompson, an over-the-hill boxer who can’t bring himself to pull the plug on his dreams of pugilistic glory. His wife (Audrey Totter) begs him to stop fighting, but for Stoker, it’s always the next bout that will start his climb to the top.
The problem is, Stoker loses so often that his manager has taken money from a gangster on the assurance him that Stoker will take a dive in his next fight—but he hasn’t told Stoker.
The Set-Up holds the distinction of being perhaps the only film noir to be based on a poem, a narrative work written in 1928 by Joseph Moncure March. The poem and film share a title and a premise, but March’s boxer was a skilled African-American fighter nicknamed Pansy—“He’d carve you up like a leg of mutton,” wrote March—who had just been released from prison.
The picture takes place in real time, running a tidy, tense 73 minutes. Director Robert Wise gives the picture a gritty quality that suits the subject matter (and the genre) perfectly.
If you’ve never seen what many consider to be the best boxing picture ever (and certainly the best released before 1950), here’s your chance. Don’t blow it.
Happy 99th Birthday, Marsha Hunt!
The lovely Marsha Hunt, born Marcia Virginia Hunt in Chicago, Illinois, is celebrating her 99th birthday today! Here are some MA Did-You-Knows:
- The daughter of an attorney and voice teacher, Hunt and her family moved to New York City when she was three years old. She took an interest in performing at an early age, appearing in school plays and performing at church functions.
- After graduating from NYC’s Horace Mann High School (at age 16!), she worked as a model and as a singer on the radio while studying drama at the Theodora Irvine’s Studio of the Theatre (where Cornel Wilde was one of her classmates)
- At 17 (and accompanied by her older sister), Hunt moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in motion pictures. She was quickly signed by Paramount Pictures and in 1935 made her debut in The Virginia Judge. She was relegated to mostly B pictures at Paramount and when her career failed to take off, she began to freelance at various studios, including many of the Poverty Row outfits.
- In 1939, Hunt signed with MGM, where she was given solid parts but rarely lead roles. Her association with MGM came to an end in 1945 and she began freelance again (it was during this period that she appeared as the “good girl” counterpart to Claire Trevor‘s “bad girl” in Anthony Mann‘s classic film noir Raw Deal (1948).
- In 1948, Hunt decided to give Broadway a try, debuting in Joy to the World. She appeared in a number of other shows as well, including a turn as Anna in a production of The King and I. She also appeared on Broadway with Johnny Carson, in a production called Tunnel of Love.
- Hunt was a lifelong liberal and in the early 1950s, some of her past political activities unfairly came back to haunt her. Although she was never called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, her name appeared in the infamous Red Channels pamphlet that purported to expose Communists and other subversives in the radio and television industries. She made just three films in the next eight years.
- Semi-retired thereafter, Marcia has devoted herself to humanitarian causes and organizations, among them UNICEF, The March of Dimes and The Red Cross.
- Hunt was named the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California, in 1983 and still holds that “post” today.
- In 1993, Hunt published a book on fashion entitled The Way We Wore.
- In 1998, Hunt received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for her charitable and humanitarian activities.
Happy birthday, Marsha Hunt, and many happy returns of the day!
Happy 92nd Birthday, Jane Greer!
Jane Greer was born Bettejane Greer 92 years ago today in Washington, D.C. If she had played no other role in a motion picture than Kathie Moffat, the femme fatale who bedeviled Robert Mitchum in the noir classic Out of the Past, she’d be remembered with great fondness in the Cladrite household.
Here are 10 JG Did-You-Knows:
- As a child Greer suffered from a facial palsy that partially paralyzed her face. She credited the facial exercises she performed to overcome the condition helped her expressiveness as an actress.
- After winning beauty contests and working as a model as a teen, Greer began her career as a performer singing (in phonetic Spanish) with the dance orchestra of Enrique Madriguera.
- Howard Hughes spotted Greer in a 1942 modeling spread in Life magazine and brought her to Hollywood to work in pictures.
- Greer married Rudy Vallée in 1943, in order, it was said in some circles, to escape the overly possessive and controlling Hughes. She was 19; he was 42. We’re big Rudy fans, but he was an oddball on his best day and this has to be as one of the unlikeliest pairings in Hollywood history. The couple separated after just three months of marriage and divorced five months later.
- Greer had her name legally changed from Bettejane to Jane in December 1945. About her birth name, she said, “Mine is a sissy name. It’s too bo-peepish, ingenueish, for the type of role I’ve been playing. It’s like Mary Lou or Mary Ann.”
- Greer was a descendant of the poet John Donne.
- Greer had three sons with second husband Edward Lasker, an attorney and business, to whom she was married for 16 years. TWo of her sons, Alex and Lawrence, worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and ’90s as writers and producers.
- Her longest romantic relationship was a 36-year domestic partnership with actor and dialogue coach Frank London that lasted until his death in 2001. She passed away six months later.
- In addition to the 28 motion pictures she appeared in, Greer worked extensively on television, beginning in 1953 with an appearance on The Revlon Mirror Theater and ending in 1990 with a recurring role in the second season of Twin Peaks.
- Greer had a twin brother named Don.
Happy birthday, Jane Greer, wherever you may be!
Fill Your Friday with The Falcon
The Falcon series of motion pictures are entertaining enough but not terribly compelling. They don’t have the compelling sense of darkness and danger that the films noir of the day offered, and they aren’t as funny and fun as the Thin Man series of movie mysteries.
But they do make for reasonably entertaining cinematic diversions, and if you’ve never experienced a Falcon picture, tomorrow, September 2, is your day. TCM is airing the first eleven entries in the series beginning at 6:15 am ET.
The Falcon originated as a character in Michael Arlen’s short story, Gay Falcon, that author’s only contribution to the annals of crime fiction. In the story, the adventurous, debonair good-guy-for-hire we know as the Falcon was actually named Falcon—Gay Stanhope Falcon. But in the movies and on the radio, his name was Gay Laurence (other names were later used) and The Falcon was his nickname, his alias; how he acquired it was never fully explained.
The Falcon was a near-carbon copy of The Saint, so much so that the Saint’s creator, author Leslie Charteris sued RKO for plagiarism (and mocked the character in his 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In). George Sanders played the character in the first four films, but had no interest in continuing his association with the series, so in The Falcon’s Brother (1942), Sanders’ real-life brother, Tom Conway, was brought in to play the Falcon’s fictional brother, Tom, who thereafter also went by the Falcon alias—convenient, no? Conway would play the Falcon in nine pictures from 1943-46.
Beginning in 1948, John Calvert took over the role of the Falcon (whose name was now Michael Waring) in the series’ final three pictures, but they were not successful. Gruff, tough Charles McGraw, a very different type than Sanders and Conway (urbane and sophisticated he was not), would take over the role in 1954 for a syndicated television series that ran for 39 episodes.
TCM is showing the first three of Sanders’ Falcon pictures, the transition entry in the film that saw Sanders and Conway both starring, and the first seven of Conway’s nine pictures in the role. Our suggestion? Take the day off , get up early and dedicate the first 12.5 hours of your Labor Day weekend to getting acquainted with the Falcon.
Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Mitchum!
The iconoclastic Robert Mitchum was born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum 99 years ago today in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Here are 10 RM Did-You-Knows:
- His father, a railroad and shipyard worker, died in a train accident when Mitchum was two. He was raised by his mother and stepfather, a British army major.
- Mitchum had issues with authority from an early age, and he spent much of his teens on the road. At 14, he was charged with vagrancy and spent time on a Georgia chain gang (he escaped).
- While living with his older sister in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, he was expelled from Haaren High School, at which point he traveled the country by riding the rails, working for the Civilian Conservation Corps and earning money as a boxer.
- He once worked as a ghostwriter for an astrologist (this delights us, by the way).
- He recorded several record albums, including a Calypso record titled Calypso — Is Like So…, and generally was not dubbed when he sang in a movie.
- Mitchum was arrested on September 1, 1948, for marijuana possession. He spent a week in the L.A. county jail and after being convicted, spent 43 days at a prison farm in Castaic, California. In 1951, the conviction was overturned, and many years later, Mitchum told TCM‘s Robert Osborne the arrest never happened, that it was all a publicity stunt. (What’s the truth? Your guess is as good as ours.)
- Though he was true to her at times only in his fashion, Mitchum and his wife, Dorothy, remained married for more than 57 years until his death in 1997.
- Mitchum was the voice of the “Beef…it’s what’s for dinner” television advertisements from 1992 until his death.
- Mitchum was known for passing on roles that later proved to be iconic, among them Gen. George S. Patton, played by George C. Scott in Patton, and Det. Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, portrayed by Clint Eastwood.
- Mitchum was a big fan of Elvis Presley‘s early music and tried to sign him to appear in Thunder Road, but Col. Tom Parker‘s asking price was too steep for the independent production.
Happy birthday, Robert Mitchum, wherever you may be!
You think that money is everything
And yet it’s anybody’s spring.
Go make a fortune, become a king
And still it’s anybody’s spring.
And if you flash a bank roll
Do you suppose the brook would care?
Or that a rose would say
“There goes a millionaire!”
It’s more than diamonds around a ring
Because it’s anybody’s spring.
You may be born with the silver spoon
And yet it’s anybody’s moon
You couldn’t buy a ticket
To hear the first robin sing
It’s free because
It’s anybody’s spring.
Music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, 1944