In the dark years of the 1930s, dance marathons became popular as a way for desperate people to compete for prize money. Sometimes the events would drag on for weeks as contestants pushed themselves far beyond the point of... more » physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, the dancers shambling around the floor in a half-dead stupor. People would then pay to sit in the bleachers, watch the event, and cheer on their favorites. They Shoot Horses is taken from hard-boiled pulp writer Horace McCoy's novel of the same name; Jane Fonda plays a bitter young woman paired up with Michael Sarrazin for the ordeal. Gig Young portrays the unctuous MC of the event, bringing equal parts compassion and sleaze to his role. Many of the film's images are unforgettable, such as "the derby," a heel-and-toe race around the dance floor with bouncy, lighthearted music to accompany the miserable spectacle. It's a powerful, tragic period piece that reminds us of the privations of the Great Depression. In the largest sense, the film has existential overtones that go far beyond the story of enervated dancers staying on their feet for a month or more. This film brought home a string of Academy Award nominations for the cast and director Sydney Pollack and a win for Young. --Jerry Renshaw« less
"I was overjoyed to receive a gift of the reissue of this video in 1995, that is until I watched it in all its "pan & scan" desecration. It is truly a joy to watch this DVD (VHS is now available in widescreen as well) in the right format with all the extras. But all that aside, this is a towering, neglected masterpiece of American cinema that virtually put director Sydney Pollack on the map and established Jane Fonda as the premier American actress of the Sixties and Seventies. Who else could have captured the tragic essence of the bitter, beaten Gloria but Fonda? Watch her especially in the final elimination round as she desperately (and literally) carries her ailing partner around the floor in a final attempt to win the big prize and (symbolically) maybe give life one more try. Fonda never sentimalizes this great character as a lesser actress would have been tempted to; no simple answers or easy forgiveness will do for Gloria--she is too important to be trivialized. Red Buttons, Susannah York, and Gig Young are also superb in supporting roles; the cinematography and music also deserve kudos. If you haven't seen it, do not miss this American classic and one of the century's greatest actresses just entering her prime. How we do miss Jane."
Carnival of Souls
Michael M. Wilk | Howard Beach, NY | 12/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In this age of "Reality" TV shows like "Survivor", in which "The Most Devious and Unscrupulous Person Wins" for a grand prize of a million dollars, the grim reality of the Great Depression makes inconsequential dreck like this look like a walk in the park. Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", based on the novella by Horace McCoy, is a harrowing heartbreaking , and unforgettable experience. Set in Southern California in 1932, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is the tale of a marathon dance, and the desperate people who participate in it. For those of you who don't know what a marathon dance was, couples had to dance for 2 hours, take a 10 minute break to sleep or eat, and then dance again....and again...and again. These grueling endurance contests went on for weeks, and the last remaining couple on the dance floor would win the Grand Prize...if they were still alive and/or still conscious enough to claim it....while spectators watched the whole grotesque show.
Jane Fonda (in the performance of her career, IMO) plays Gloria Beatty, an embittered young woman who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks. Her dance partner is the dreamy-eyed and naïve country boy Robert Syverton (Michael Sarrazin), Among the other contestants are a flinty, middle-aged sailor (Red Buttons), aspiring actress Alice LeBlanc (Susannah York) and her partner Joel (Robert Fields), and hayseed couple James and Ruby (Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia). Presiding over the dance is the cynical emcee Rocky (Gig Young, in an Oscar-winning performance) The action of the film covers the weeks that transpire during the dance, and the physical, emotional, and mental toll that it takes on the contestants is, quite simply, horrifying. These people were struggling for their lives, when just the prospect of having a meal was a very precious thing, not to mention a job, a home, some self-respect. Dreams are shattered, someone dies during this hellish dance (Red Buttons' death scene, from a massive heart attack during "The Derby", a grueling track race, is unforgettable), and Alice LeBlanc, whose somewhat fragile grip on reality finally gives way, finally loses her mind. And there's still more to come, folks!
The performances are top-notch and disturbingly believable. Jane Fonda's performance isn't merely a performance...it's a fist in your face. Gig Young isn't merely smarmy, he's just someone who has seen it all, and who probably cant muster up any sorrow anymore. The supporting cast is great, including Allyn Mclerie , Michael Conrad, Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, Madge Kennedy, and Paul Mantee. Director Pollack wisely shot the film in sequence, and the actors look like they've been to Hell (and not necessarily back) by the film's end. The production and costumes are very accurate, (tho the men's hairstyles belie the year in which the film was made, 1969, they're not quite accurate for the 1930s), the music is not only correct, but the choice of songs is quite poignant indeed ("The Best Things in Life are Free", "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store").
The picture and sound quality on the DVD are excellent, and the film is presented in its correct widescreen format. Sadly, there are no extras on the DVD, which is a pity. This is a must-see film for people seeking to see true-to-life drama, and it is also a reminder of how fortunate we are these days. My parents lived through the Depression as children, and they were not easy times. This is definitely not a "feel good" film...but then, we can't always be happy idiots, can we? "
Does anyone know about this unique masterpiece?
R. Gawlitta | Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA | 04/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've read a number of the customer reviews, agreed with them, and only wish I could think of more superlatives for this phenomenal achievement in filmmaking. You cannot come away from this film without being moved by its amazing, thought-provoking power. The world created by Pollack draws you in so completely (along with brilliant sets, cinematography, editing and, especially, the very well-chosen music) that you cannot help thinking "There but for the grace of God, Go I". What many don't realize is that this film is on the record books of the Academy for many reasons; no other film received as many Oscar nominations as this (9) without being nominated for Best Picture. Two artists who have made unforgettable marks upon the history of American film (Pollack and Fonda) received their first of many Oscar nominations. As I mentioned, there's not much more to say about this film experience that hasn't been said, though I will repeat: SEE THIS FILM. If you're any kind of a film fan, this is an essential addition to your library.The Widescreen version and DVD are 2.35:1, the ONLY way to view this film. With few exceptions, this film gives more attention to detail than any I can recall. I also realize that most people that might read this are aware of its brilliance. Sad to think this film is being missed by so many."
One of the most overlooked classics from the 60's.
Golden Girls fan | Alabama, USA | 10/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sydney Pollack has given the world some of most memorable and engrossing films ever such as "The Way We Were," "Out of Africa," "Tootsie", and "The Firm." However, most seem to forget about this little masterpiece he helmed back in 1969, about a dance marathon that causes more disillusionment that being told your life is a worthless shame. Jane Fonda heads out the cast as a struggling actress who seeks out the dance marathon as a means of survival during the Great Depression. Marathons of this type were popular, luring in poor folks to see who would be willing to go so far to win a cash prize. Susannah York is another actress from Hollywood who has had her share of bad luck and it gets worse and worse as the marathon wears on. Red Buttons is a sailor who has seen his share of human loss and heartache but matters to almost nothing when he sees what this marathon will do to its contestants. Gig Young is well-cast as the scheming marathon promoter who loves to sit back and watch the people collapse and give up. He puts the show on soley for human spectacle and idiotic display. What he does to select contestants will have you loathing and seething with hatred for his character. He is so convincing in the role it won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Young, who was a major comedy star back in the 1940-50's, was sinking into deep melancholy over life and his work and the Oscar did little to nothing to help him. In 1978 he shot his wife and then himself, always convinced that he was the result of an accidental pregnancy. However, despite this pitiful knowledge, he has given the entertainment world some of the best work we've ever seen, including his own TV show in the 50's in which he went behind the scenes of movies in production. This film was shot entirely in sequence and Pollack had his cast rehearse and dance for 12 straight hours before he put them in front of the camera, so you are basically seeing it as it was filmed. The editing makes it look more frenzied and more grueling to watch, especially those derby scenes. Human cruelty never looked more artistic or more disheartening. Dance marathons were eventually banned by law and this film shows just why that happened. Nominated for nine Academy Awards---Best Director (Pollack), Actress (Fonda), Supporting Actor (Gig Young, who won the Oscar), Supporting Actress (York), Screenplay Adaptation from the novel by Horace McCoy, Art Direction, Costume Design, Music Score Adaptation, and Film Editing. It is a travesty that it was not nominated for Best Picture. This is one of those little known films from the dusk of Hollywood's Golden Age and should not be missed. It should be revived for a whole new generation to discover and be mesmerized by."
School of Hardest Knocks!
Jim Casey | USA | 12/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not for the squeamish or those looking for "a good time" in movie entertainment. Set in depression era L.A. at an endless dance marathon, Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin play variations on down-&-outers of the period. Jane's a would-be acrtress who's done a little extra work & now wants more; Michael is just a farmboy cajoled into the dance marathon by emcee Gig Young. Young gives a wonderful performance as the sardonic, wicked emcee -- more vocal & abrasive than any other character in the movie! Young won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his job handling the mike & the dancers. There isn't much real dancing -- the characters are endlessly exhausted and weary from staying on their feet trying to win measly prizes along the way & wishing to win the big final prize. Big climactic scenes: the heal-and-toe race to eliminate dancers & what drives Suzannah York's character over the edge! Other standout performances are by Red Buttons, as an old-time sailor who's tough as nails; Suzannah York, as a fey British high-society actress who gets taken down quite a few notches; also, look for Al Lewis, the grandfather from the ol' Munsters TV show, as assistant emcee at the dance marathon. More actor trivia: the actor who played the Sargent on the first years of Hill Street Blues is also a dance floor bouncer. Other miniscule roles with big actors: Allyn Ann McClearie as Buttons's girlfriend/partner; Bonnie Bedalia & Bruce Dern as the expectant couple struggling to stay afoot against all odds. For serious trivia nuts, anyone who knows who Paul Mantee is will recognize him as one of the other dance floor bouncers! The movie was made in 1969/70 and it's full of sixties angst and morbid ideologies about the plight of man & "man's inhumanity to man" (vis-a-vis the Vietnam War period). On its own, "Horses" has stood the test of time & looks tough & coarse today with outstanding performances all around. If you can take all the heartache, you'll find a strong metaphorical film here! I remember how controversial this movie was when it came out. It's still abrasive, but see if our society has changed at all in it's view of the subject matter. This is for people who don't mind a depressing dose of reality drama. Oh, almost forgot: there's the film's theme song "Easy Come & Easy Go" which languishes around the background and adds eerie resonance to the whole film! When will REM record this & crank up more sixties ennui! Peace, brothers & sisters!"