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Past Films

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

  • Starring: Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Gig Young, Susannah York, Bruce Dern
  • Director: Sydney Pollack
  • Genre(s): Drama
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 121 min.

Staff Picks Series Every month a member of the Moxie staff picks a film that impacted their lives and we put it up on the big screen. July’s pick was made by Shay Rainey. “I wanted to screen this for the Moxie crowd because I think it’s one of the best and least well known movies to come out on the cusp of the 70s cinema revolution, and it’s definitely something for film lovers. Other films like The Last Picture Show, The Godfather, and The Deer Hunter are great examples of American stories being told during the same period that have all the idealism of the 50s juxtaposed with the contemporary reality of war and greed. They Shoot Horses is tough, brilliantly shot, and hosts iconic performances from an ensemble cast. It runs the gamut of emotions, making it a true cinematic treasure. In college I had a class with Dr. Pat Elliot that introduced me to seventies film. Her instruction had a profound influence on me. I’ve been in love with the decade ever since. She had an immeasurable knowledge of film that helped shape her students. This screening is dedicated to her.”

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Summary: A total of nine Academy Award nominations went to this wildly acclaimed, allegorical drama set amongst the contestants in a marathon dance contest during the Great Depression. Gig Young stars as Rocky, the obnoxious emcee for a dance marathon that offers prize money of $1,500, a small fortune during hard economic times that brings out the worst in several participants. Among them are Gloria Beatty (Jane Fonda), a malcontent who’s partnered with a drifter, Robert Syverton (Michael Sarrazin); a pregnant farm girl (Bonnie Bedelia) and her husband (Bruce Dern); a sailor (Red Buttons); and an aspiring actress (Susannah York). As the marathon winds into a staggering second month, suspicion, doubt and insecurity rages among the competitors and even the decaying and increasingly manipulative Rocky, leading to a shocking crime.

"A sordid spectacle of hard times, a kind of existentialist allegory of life. Puffy-eyed, unshaven, reeking of stale liquor, sweat and cigarettes, [Gig] Young has never looked older or acted better. Fonda ... gives a dramatic performance that gives the film a personal focus and an emotionally gripping power."
- Variety
"'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?' is a masterful re-creation of the marathon era for audiences that are mostly unfamiliar with it. In addition to everything else it does, "Horses" holds our attention because it tells us something we didn't know about human nature and American society."
- Roger Ebert,
"While the cameras remain, as if they had been sentenced, within the ballroom, picking up the details of the increasing despair of the dancers, the movie becomes an epic of exhaustion and futility."
- Vincent Canby, The New York Times
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a tour de force of acting. Fonda here got her first chance to prove herself as a serious, dramatic actress ... Young is superb in his role, a sharp switch from his usual bon vivant parts ... Pollack does one of his best jobs of directing, even if his primary strength lies in his rapport with actors. The look of the film is just right and Pollack skillfully evokes the ratty atmosphere amid which explosive emotions come to a boil ... [It] remains a suitably glum yet cathartic film experience."
- TV Guide Magazine
"They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a show-biz-as-metaphor-for-life movie like The Day Of The Locust, Cabaret, and The Truman Show, and it may well be the most brittle and nihilistic of the bunch."
- Scott MacDonald, The A.V. Club
"Seen today, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? remains a fascinating and troubling film, etching many haunting characters while spotlighting the dark side of capitalism and memorializing a Depression-era fad that has fortunately died away."