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




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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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.
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Anchor Bay Entertainment


Jane Fonda
as Gloria
Gig Young
as Rocky
Red Buttons
as Sailor
Bruce Dern
as James
Al Lewis
as Turkey
Gail Billings
as Lillian
Paul Mantee
as Jiggs
Madge Kennedy
as Mrs. Layden
Robert Dunlap
as College Boy
Tim Herbert
as Doctor
Tom McFadden
as Trainer
Kid Chissell
as Trainer
Philo McCullough
as Audience Extra
Joseph Harris
as House Band
Teddy Buckner
as House Band
Hugh Bell
as House Band
Harold Land
as House Band
Teddy Edwards
as House Band
Hadley Coliman
as House Band
Thurman Green
as House Band
Les Robertson
as House Band
Ronnell Bright
as House Band
Ike Isaacs
as House Band
Joe Harris
as House Band
Bobby Hutcherson
as Band Leader
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Critic Reviews for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (4)

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

Full Review… | May 26, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A sordid spectacle of hard times, a kind of existentialist allegory of life.

Full Review… | May 26, 2008
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.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The movie is by far the best thing that Pollack has ever directed (with the possible exception of The Scalphunters).

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

It's depressing as hell, so it's not a movie I would watch repeatedly, but I'm sure glad I saw it. This is an important film about a time in America's history that wasn't so glamorous. You won't forget it.

Full Review… | June 17, 2013
Film Geek Central

There has never been a film quite so original as this, featuring a wealth of noted actors fighting for their lives in a dance competition taking place during the Great Depression.

Full Review… | August 15, 2011
Cinema Sight

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

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 Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

extremely well acted but profoundly depressing

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

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. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

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