They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

People are the ultimate spectacle
People are the ultimate spectacle
D: Sydney Pollack
Palomar (Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff & Sydney Pollack)
US 1969
129 mins


W: James Poe & Robert E. Thompson [based on the novel by Horace McCoy]
DP: Philip Lathrop
Ed: Frederic Steinkamp
Mus: Johnny Green
PD: Harry Horner
Cos: Donfeld

Jane Fonda (Gloria Beatty), Michael Sarrazin (Robert Syverton), Susannah York (Alice), Gig Young (Rocky), Red Buttons (Sailor), Bonnie Bedelia (Ruby), Bruce Dern (James)

The title refers to a gunman's motive for opening fire towards the end of a six-day dance marathon during the Great Depression manipulated by a sleazy master of ceremonies under the false promise of a $1,500 prize.
The story itself is an allegorical representation of the injustices during this period of record unemployment and bread lines on every corner. The film is packed with a strong ensemble cast, especially Jane Fonda as a headstrong, independent woman, not afraid of lashing out at those around her, Susannah York as a Jean Harlow lookalike desperate for stardom, and Gig Young as the aforementioned master of ceremonies, Rocky. Others with numbers on their backs, dancing for fortune are Red Buttons, a former sailor with heart problems, Bonnie Bedelia as a heavy pregnant woman and Michael Sarrazin as a runaway drifter with no real desire to participate.
Though the film concludes on a harrowingly depressing note, the filmmaking exercise and style has stood the test of time, whereas other films released around the same time during the late 1960's have dated quite badly. Worth watching for the performances alone, with a final punch that delivers a permanent sting.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?