Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Just One Punch Away

The Set-Up - I haven't seen a lot of Robert Wise movies (see the comments on The Sound Of Music in the 1965 list for a list of some of his highlights), but this is easily my favorite. It's the opposite of The Sound Of Music. Where that was bloated, colorful, sunny and epic this is dark, taught, and efficient. An essential film noir, it tells the real-time story of an overthehill boxer whose wife can't watch him fight anymore and whose managers have brokered a deal with a gangster for him to throw the fight but haven't bothered to tell him. Robert Ryan excels as the fighter with an unshakable belief that if he wins just one more fight he'll finally be on his way to greatness. But it's the mise en scène that's the real star here. The film essentially takes place on one corner, where a cheap hotel, the boxing arena, an arcade and a bar lie. The sense of seediness, the dark underbelly of urban life that noir so effectively evokes has never been better exemplified than Wise does here, despite the apparent B-level of the production (it's only about 70 minutes long and looks about as expensive as a Twilight Zone episode). The fight scenes are impressive, shot, like the rest of the film, in real time, and I never noticed them looking fake. Certainly as good as any boxing scenes until Scorsese's Raging Bull (#3, 1980), for which this film was a major influence. I'd recommend it for fans of film noir, and fans of sports movies, which must cover two-thirds of the world at least.