Reviewed bymukava991Vote: 9/10/10
THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY? This movie stays in the memory, partlybecause it stands out from other mainstream Hollywood products of itstime in subject matter (the dance marathons of the 20s and 30s) andtone (pitilessly and harshly negative; even the humor is bleak). Themessage: life (the marathon) is a desperate rat race with a riggedoutcome.
How certain actors end up with certain roles depends on the crazycomplicated game known as Hollywood casting, but sometimes even amiscast performer will bring an unexpected something to the table andtriumph. Such was the case with Bette Davis in ALL ABOUT EVE (writtenwith Claudette Colbert or Gertrude Lawrence in mind) and such is thecase with Jane Fonda in a role that would have been better suited tosomeone like Stella Stevens. Fonda overcomes the odds as Gloria, themorbidly cynical and impoverished young woman whose brief life has beena series of abuses, disappointments and defeats. Even though theactress looks and speaks like a patrician, her defiant, angry,controlled desperation burns through the superficialities. Herperformance culminates in an emotional meltdown which she handles withskill. It was her great breakthrough as a screen actress.
Another career peak is reached by Gig Young who, as the master ofceremonies, personifies all the dishonesty, cruelty and pathos of themarathon itself. Bonnie Bedelia and Susannah York also score asdifferent kinds of vulnerable innocents. Michael Sarrazin as Fonda'sdance partner serves as the passive instrument that allows Fonda toplay out her tortured personal drama. His unchanging wounded puppy dogexpression speaks for itself.
Ironically, the musical arrangements by John Green, a brilliant andvery active composer of early 30's popular songs (including "Body andSoul"), sound more like Lawrence Welk than a real third-rate dance bandof the early Depression era. As musical supervisor of this film Iwonder if it was Green who anachronistically included songs that hadn'teven been written when the story takes place, including "I Cover theWaterfront" (1933) and "Easy Come, Easy Go" (1934), both of which Greencomposed himself.
For some reason the scriptwriter chose to move the story to 1932 fromits original placement in 1934 by author Horace McCoy in the novel onwhich this film is based. At one point an old lady tells Fonda andSarrazin that they are her favorite dance couple because they'rewearing the number "67" which is the year she was born (1867). LaterFonda calculates her age: "Sixty-five." Which enables us to figure outthat the action is taking place in 1932. In another scene Fonda,referring to Bonnie Bedelia, quips, "If she's not pregnant, then I'mNelson Eddy." Eddy didn't become a nationally known name until 1935when he teamed with Jeanette MacDonald. He didn't even appear in amajor motion picture until 1933 (DANCING LADY, MGM). A woman of 1932would have been more likely to say "Bing Crosby" or "Rudy Vallee" oreven "Russ Columbo." So one can't help wondering why the screenwriterbothered to move the action backwards by two years.
Exhausted couples staggering around a dance floor under a shining,spinning ball composed of mirror fragments that reflect off theceiling, walls and floor - a symbol of Earth and the cosmos around itand oppressed humanity on the bottom grimly pressing on. That's thefilm in a nutshell.
Reviewed byevanston_dadVote: 9/10/10
A brutally bleak screen adaptation of the pulpy Horace McCoy novella,about a Depression-era dance marathon where down-and-outers drivethemselves to the brink of exhaustion to win the cash prize.
This film has become relevant again today in the age of reality T.V.,where people tune in to watch strangers be humiliated, rejected andmade fun of. Meanness and suffering sells today, and apparently it soldback then as well. The M.C. of the dance marathon, played wonderfullyby Gig Young in one of his last (if not the last) film performancesbefore the troubled actor murdered his wife and then killed himself,creates little narratives and dramas around each of the dancers, sothat the audience can have their favorites to root for. Every once in awhile, someone will show off a special talent, singing a song orhoofing a little dance number, and the audience will throw change atthem, which the performer then frantically scrabbles up like adesperate pigeon. The cast of dancers is led by Jane Fonda, in abreak-out role as Gloria, the jaded woman-of-the-world who's seen itall and doesn't want to see anymore; Susannah York, as a pretentiouswannabe actress, who acts up a storm during a mesmerizing breakdownscene; Red Buttons, as an aging ex-serviceman who struggles to keep upwith the young kids around him; and Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia, as asweet couple of country bumpkins who are desperate to win the cash fortheir unborn baby. And yes, that is Al Lewis (aka Grandpa Munster)lurking around in the background as one of the dance marathonofficials.
Director Sydney Pollack vastly improves on the source material, makingsomething much richer and deeper out of McCoy's lurid novella. He usesan edgy, jarring style that's suited perfectly to the material, andwhich he would never again display.
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" holds a sort of grisly fascinationover its audience. Bleak as it is, it's also entertaining in a rathermorbid way, making us feel like we're members of the audience watchingthis sick spectacle and making it that much harder for us to condemnthe film audience without labeling ourselves as hypocrites.
Reviewed bymoonspinner55Vote: 9/10/10
This is the movie that "The Day of the Locust" might have aspired tobe. It captures the tone of desperation and helplessness ofDepression-era characters (would-bes, wanna-bes, and fade-outs) likefew films I've seen. It's a fascinating downer, ripe with interestinglosers and gritty drama. Jane Fonda's performance as a marathon-entryat the end of her rope ranks with her very best work, and Oscar-winnerGig Young is smashing as the M.C. Also superb: Susannah York as aglamor girl who gets her clothes (and sanity) dirty, and Red Buttons asan over-the-hill sailor. There's not a happy or hopeful moment insight, but for gripping human drama you could do no better. James Poeand Robert E. Thompson adapted their screenplay from Horace McCoy'snovel; Sydney Pollack directed, impeccably. ***1/2 from ****
Gloria is a young woman of the Depression. She has aged beyond her years and feels her life is hopeless, having been cheated and betrayed many times in her past. While recovering from a suicide attempt, she gets the idea from a movie magazine to head for Hollywood to make it as an actress. Robert is a desperate Hollywood citizen trying to become a director, never doubting he'll make it. Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter a dance marathon, one of the crazes of the 1930's. The grueling dancing takes its toll on Gloria's already weakened spirit, and she tells Robert that she'd be better off dead, that her life is hopeless - all the while acting cruelly and bitterly, alienating those around her, trying to convince him to shoot her and put her out of her misery. After all, they shoot horses, don't they?