|"Stoker" (Ryan) has his hands full.
Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Richard Goldstone
Written by Art Cohn (screenplay); Joseph Moncure March (poem)
Starring Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter, and Wallace Ford
Told in real-time, Wise's ingenious little film noir is set during the events of a night at the boxing arena. The last fight of the night features "Stoker" Thompson (Ryan), an aging boxer who's lost a step or two and can't compete with the young competition. As the film begins, it's clear that things aren't going well for "Stoker", and he needs to win this fight. His wife (Totter) doesn't approve, but he's convinced he'll win this time. When the fight is about the start, his manager (Tobias) and trainer enter the ring, ready for the expected loss. But they're not only thinking he'll lose - they're counting on it. They've been paid by a gangster called Little Boy (Baxter) to ensure that "Stoker" will take a fall, and they expect him to just that. Unknowingly, "Stoker" might be in for more than he bargained for, whether he wins the fight or not.
When it was originally released, the film won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at the BAFTAs. However, it underperformed at the box office, and the film is still not popular with movie audiences today. According to the director's DVD commentary, filmmakers like Billy Wilder praised it, expressing their admiration and regret that the film wasn't met with widespread acclaim. It really is a shame too. At 72 minutes, the film hits the ground running, and it never slows down. Following the set-up, a large portion of the film is the fight itself, which is a brutal and thrilling four rounds. The boxing scenes are very well executed, and the performances breathe life into the bare bones of the narrative. Topping it off is Milton R. Krasner's award-winning cinematography that uses light and shadow in the way that only the great noirs of the '40s and '50s could. For fans of classic movies or film noirs, this is an overlooked gem that begs to be rediscovered.
Oscar Tally: None