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 109th Birthday, Katharine Hepburn!
Katharine Hepburn was born, well, Katharine Houghton Hepburn (what, you expected her to resort to the artifice of a screen name?) 109 years ago today in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s almost startling to be reminded on such occasions that Ms. Hepburn passed on in 2003, as it’s difficult to imagine any malady or even the passing of time itself prevailing over her strong will. We’re fully prepared to believe that she left us then, at age 96, only because she was ready to go and gave the okay.
We recommend that you pay Ms. Hepburn the honor of watching at least one of her movies today. TCM‘s airing a good number of her best from 6 a.m. till 8 p.m. ET. The Philadelphia Story, airing at noon, is our favorite, but you can hardly go wrong with Stage Door (8 a.m.), Holiday (10 a.m.), or Woman of the Year (2 p.m.) or any of the pictures they’re airing.
Happy birthday, Ms. Hepburn, wherever you may be!
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
There’s a woman who serves as just the slightest irritant every day during our morning commute by trying to foist upon the new edition of one of those 10- or 12-page free daily newspapers—AM New York or the like—as we make our way through the Fulton Street subway station in lower Manhattan.
We don’t kid ourselves that our face is particularly memorable—dozens of women over the years have easily wiped it from their memories—but wouldn’t you think she’d eventually begin to recognize our hats? After all, among the many people who pass her every day, how many are wearing fedoras? Very few, we would think.
We consistently decline the proffered paper, but every morning, she throws her arm out in front of us, folded fishwrap in hand, like a human turnstile that we must make our way past.
But today, she won us over, if only temporarily. we still didn’t take a paper, but we smiled as we ran her one-woman gauntlet because she’d changed her newsie’s rap. We don’t know if perhaps she’d watched an old movie on TCM last night or what, but this morning, her barker’s pitch went like this:
“Renovate Penn Station! Renovate Penn Station! Read all about it!”
Read all about it! It’s the first time in our life we’ve actually heard someone call out that oh-so-familiar phrase as they hawked newspapers! The only thing missing was an “Extra! Extra!” or two, but that’s nitpicking.
It made our morning, we don’t mind telling you, and we won’t be the least bit surprised if the warm glow we’re experiencing doesn’t last well into the afternoon.
Fred MacMurray, Man of Many Talents
We can’t think of another actor as underestimated as MacMurray. He is widely remembered today for the latter phase of his career—his Disney movies and his television work—but in the 1930s, ’40s and even into the ’50s, he exhibited a wider range than any My Three Sons fan might ever imagine.
After all, can you imagine Steve Douglas, widower and pipe-smoking, cardigan-wearing father of three boys, teaming up with Barbara Stanwyck in a blond wig to kill her husband for an insurance payout?
MacMurray pulled off just such a role in the classic film noir Double Indemnity (he starred opposite Ms. Stanwyck four times altogether, the lucky stiff, beginning with the oft-praised-in-this-space 1940 romantic dramady-slash-Christmas movie, Remember the Night).
Fred MacMurray also was adept at romantic and screwball comedies, appearing opposite Carole Lombard (with whom he also worked four times) in such pictures as Hands Across the Table and True Confession.
When you consider that MacMurray also played a mutinous Navy lieutenant in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and a lecherous advertising executive in The Apartment (released, ironically enough, the same year My Three Sons debuted), you start to get the picture.
To top it all off, MacMurray began his career as a saxophonist and singer with such outfits as the Gus Arnheim Orchestra and George Olsen and His Music. MacMurray also appeared on Broadway in Three’s A Crowd (1930–31). He even appeared in a good number of westerns!
So you see, respect must be paid to Mr. MacMurray, who passed in 1991 at age 83. He really could do it all and is well deserving of his Star of the Month designation.
Spend New Year’s Eve with the Marxes & the Charleses
What are you doing New Year’s Eve? We’re not referencing the classic song of that name (a favorite of ours, by the way); we’re asking the question. Because Turner Classic Movies has arranged a day of programming that, for our money, negates any need to even think of joining the inebriated hordes who’ll be out on the town, paying too much to have too little fun. Stay home instead, and enjoy the Marx Brothers all day and Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, too) all night!
The Marx Brothers‘ first—and finest—seven pictures will air (slightly out of order, which is a bit of a head-scratcher) beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET, followed by all six Thin Man movies (which are being shown in proper order) beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
It’s nearly 23 hours of programming, so you’ll want to get plenty of rest tonight.
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