They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 1969

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Critics Consensus

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83%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 30

89%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,556
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Movie Info

In the midst of the Great Depression, manipulative emcee Rocky (Gig Young) enlists contestants for a dance marathon offering a $1,500 cash prize. Among them are a failed actress (Jane Fonda), a middle-aged sailor (Red Buttons), a delusional blonde (Susannah York) and a pregnant girl (Bonnie Bedelia). Days turn into weeks as the competition drags on and people either drop out or expire. Rocky, however, will do anything for publicity and initiates a series of grueling derbies.

Cast & Crew

Critic Reviews for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (5)

  • The material is simple and irresistible, and Sydney Pollack stages it well (though without transcending the essential superficiality of his talent).

    May 26, 2008 | Full Review…
  • A sordid spectacle of hard times, a kind of existentialist allegory of life.

    May 26, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • The acting is strident and overblown, the narrative technique gimmicky and obvious, and the implication that the competitors' situation is a microcosm of a wider-reaching American malaise rather pretentious.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The movie is by far the best thing that Pollack has ever directed (with the possible exception of The Scalphunters).

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5
  • Bleak but exquisitely fashioned.

    March 10, 2003 | Full Review…
  • With a masterful visual style, Pollack builds a shocking, almost existential portrait of the limits of the human condition and the socioeconomic setbacks of individuals who cannot escape the circle of misery. [Full review in Spanish]

    July 26, 2020 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

  • Jun 17, 2014
    A dance hall requires poor drifters and lost Depression-era souls to keep dancing for prize money. This film shouldn't work: set almost entirely in one location with the main characters fatigued to the point of almost passing out, the film's pace could slow to a standstill, much like the "dancing" we see by the end of the film. But it does work, thanks to the fantastic performances by Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. Gig Young adds some energy to the film as one of the few conscious characters. The film is about the Depression, but it's more about class issues. Watching poor people dance to their deaths, the rich are shown getting pleasure out of others' misery, benefitting from the society that deems them superior. Overall, with everything against it, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? nevertheless delivers.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • May 06, 2014
    A slightly depressing film with impact as those who are down and out dance in order to win money during the Depression. A removal of humanity at its worst.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 24, 2013
    Perhaps its a bit heavy handed and obvious in its symbolism, however I don't think there any other films that use a dance marathon contest in the early 1930s as setting to critique American society.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 10, 2011
    In Depression era down-and-out Los Angeles a dance marathon on Santa Monica pier affords the opportunity to look in on the various lives involved. Overdone, yes, okay, but still moving as the cast embraces the cut out characters presented. Sarrazin, York, et al deliver the goods, but the picture belongs to Henry's little girl who manages to do Daddy proud. Gig Young as the ringmaster is nothing short of phenomenal.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer

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