They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

:"For other uses, see They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Infobox Film
name = They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

image_size =
caption = Original poster
director = Sydney Pollack
producer = Robert Chartoff
Irwin Winkler
writer = Robert E. Thompson
James Poe
Based on the novel by Horace McCoy
narrator =
starring = Jane Fonda
Michael Sarrazin
Gig Young
music = Johnny Green
cinematography = Philip H. Lathrop
editing = Fredric Steinkamp
distributor = Cinerama Releasing Corporation
released = December 10, 1969 USA
runtime = 120 minutes
country = United States
language = English
budget =
gross =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0065088

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is a 1969 American drama film directed by Sydney Pollack. The screenplay by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson is based on the 1935 novel of the same name by Horace McCoy. It focuses on a group of disparate characters desperate to win a Depression-era dance marathon and the opportunistic emcee who urges them on to victory.

Plot synopsis

While awaiting execution after being found guilty of the murder of Gloria Beatty, drifter Robert Syverton, who once dreamed of being a great film director, recalls the events leading to the crime. He remembers that in his youth, he saw a horse break its leg, after which it was shot and put out of its misery. Years later, after wandering into a dance marathon about to begin in the shabby La Monica Ballroom situated on the Santa Monica Pier perched over the Pacific Ocean, near Los Angeles, he is recruited as a substitute partner for cynical malcontent Gloria by emcee Rocky when her original partner is disqualified due to an ominous cough.

with delusions of grandeur, and her partner, aspiring actor Joel Girard; and impoverished farm worker James and his very pregnant wife Ruby. Early in the marathon the weaker pairs are eliminated quickly, while Rocky observes the vulnerabilities of the stronger contestants and exploits them for the audience's amusement. Already frayed nerves are exacerbated by the theft of one of Alice's dresses and Gloria's displeasure at the attention Alice receives from Robert. In retaliation, she takes Joel as her partner, but when he receives a job offer and departs, she aligns herself with Harry.

Weeks into the marathon, Rocky—in order to spark the paying spectators' enthusiasm—stages a series of derbies in which the exhausted remaining contestants, clad in track suits, must race around the dance floor, with the last three couples eliminated. Harry suffers a fatal heart attack, and an undeterred Gloria lifts him on her back and crosses the finish line. Horrified by the sight of the collapsed sailor, Alice has a mental breakdown, and Robert and Gloria once again are partners.

Rocky suggests the couple marry during the marathon, a publicity stunt guaranteed to earn them some cash in the form of gifts from supporters such as Mrs. Laydon. When Gloria refuses, he reveals the contest is not what it appears to be on the surface. Numerous expenses will be deducted from the prize money, leaving the winner with close to nothing. Shocked by the revelation, the couple drops out of the competition. Distraught and despondent, Gloria attempts to shoot herself, but cannot bring herself to pull the trigger. Desperate, she asks Robert to kill her, and he obliges. Questioned by the police as to the motive for his action, Robert responds with the film's title. The movie closes with the marathon still continuing on with its few remaining couples, including James and Ruby. The eventual winners are never revealed.

Production notes

In the early 1950s, Norman Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin were looking for a project on which they could collaborate, with Lloyd as director and Chaplin as producer. Lloyd purchased the rights to Horace McCoy's novel for $3,000 and planned to cast Chaplin's son Sidney and newcomer Marilyn Monroe in the lead roles. Once arrangements were completed, Chaplin took his family on what was intended to be a brief trip to the United Kingdom for the London premiere of "Limelight". Because Chaplin faced a Mann Act charge related to a previous underaged lover and was accused of being a Communist supporter during the McCarthy era, J. Edgar Hoover negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke his re-entry permit, and the film was aborted. When McCoy died sixteen years later and the rights to the book reverted to his heirs, they refused to renew the deal with Lloyd since nothing had come of his original plans [ [ "Everybody knows Norman" by Steve Persall, "St. Petersaburg Times", April 10, 2008] ] .

When Sydney Pollack signed to direct the film, he approached Jane Fonda with the role of Gloria. The actress declined because she felt the script wasn't very good, but her then-husband Roger Vadim urged her to reconsider. ["My Life So Far" by Jane Fonda, Random House, 2005, pg. 202]

Meeting with Pollack to discuss the script, she was surprised when he asked for her input. She read the novel with a critical eye, made notes on the character, and later observed in her autobiography, "It was a germinal moment [for me] . . . This was the first time in my life as an actor that I was working on a film about larger societal issues, and instead of my professional work feeling peripheral to life, it felt relevant." Experiencing problems in her marriage at the time, she drew on her personal anguish to help her with her characterization. ["My Life So Far", pp. 207-216]

Warren Beatty originally was considered for the role of Robert Syverton [ [,,293121,00.html "Entertainment Weekly", June 21, 1996] ] , and Pollack's first choice for Rocky was character actor Lionel Stander. [ [ "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" at Turner Classic Movies] ]

In later years, Turner Classic Movies observed, "By popularizing the title of McCoy’s novel, [the movie] gave American argot a catch-phrase that’s as recognizable today as when the movie first caught on." [ [ "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" at Turner Classic Movies] ] The title has been imitated in various media having little relation to the plot or themes of the original film. Episodes of "Happy Days", "Due South", "Family Matters", "Sex and the City", "Designing Women", "Gilmore Girls", and "Ally Mcbeal" have used variations of the phrase for their titles. Humorist Patrick F. McManus titled one of his story collections "They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?". A song named after the movie is included on Canadian indie rock band Apostle of Hustle's first album, "Folkloric Feel", and the story served as the inspiration for a hit 1976 single of the same name by the band Racing Cars. A Vancouver band named themselves after the film.

At present, the film holds the record for being nominated for the most Academy Awards (nine) without receiving a nod for Best Picture.

The film is notable for using the technique of flashforwards (glimpses of the future), which are not commonly used in motion pictures.


The film's soundtrack features numerous standards from the era. These included "Easy Come, Easy Go" by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman, "Sweet Sue" by Victor Young and Will J. Harris, "Paradise" by Nacio Herb Brown and Gordon Clifford, "Coquette" by Green and E.Y. Harburg, "Japanese Sandman" by Richard A. Whiting and Ray Egan, "By the Beautiful Sea" by Harry Carroll and Harold Atteridge, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, "The Best Things in Life are Free" by Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, "Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?" by Jay Gorney and E.Y. Harburg, "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)" by Harry Warren, Billy Rose, and Mort Dixon, and "California, Here I Come" by Buddy G. DeSylva, Joseph Meyer, and Al Jolson.

Principal cast

*Jane Fonda ..... Gloria Beatty
*Michael Sarrazin ..... Robert Syverton
*Susannah York ..... Alice LeBlanc
*Gig Young ..... Rocky
*Red Buttons ..... Harry Kline
*Bonnie Bedelia ..... Ruby
*Bruce Dern ..... James
*Robert Fields ..... Joel Girard
*Michael Conrad ..... Rollo
*Al Lewis ..... Turkey
*Madge Kennedy ..... Mrs. Laydon

Critical reception

In his review in the "New York Times", Vincent Canby said, "The movie is far from being perfect, but it is so disturbing in such important ways that I won't forget it very easily, which is more than can be said of much better, more consistent films . . . The movie is by far the best thing that Pollack has ever directed (with the possible exception of "The Scalphunters"). 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." [ [ "New York Times" review] ]

"Variety" said, "Puffy-eyed, unshaven, reeking of stale liquor, sweat and cigarets, 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" review] ]

"TV Guide" rates the film four out of a possible four stars and comments, "Although it is at times heavy-handed, "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" review] ]

"Time Out London" says, "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 (though safely distanced by the period and the flash-back-and-forth narrative technique) rather pretentious." [ [ "Time Out London" review] ]

In 1996, "Entertainment Weekly" observed, "Sydney Pollack's dance-marathon movie has probably aged better than any American film of its time." [ [,,293121,00.html "Entertainment Weekly", June 21, 1966] ]

Awards and nominations

*Academy Award for Best Director (nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Actress (Jane Fonda, nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Gig Young, winner)
*Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Susannah York, nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Art Direction (nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Costume Design (nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Film Editing (nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Score (nominee)
*Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
*Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama (nominee)
*Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture (nominee)
*Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Fonda, nominee)
*Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (York, nominee)
*Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture (Young, winner; Red Buttons, nominee)
*BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Fonda, nominee)
*BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (York, winner)
*BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Young, nominee)
*BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
*BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer (Sarrazin, nominee)
*New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (Fonda, winner)
*Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (nominee)
*Writers Guild of America Award for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium (nominee)
*National Board of Review Award for Best Film (winner)


External links

*imdb title|id=0065088

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (disambiguation) — They Shoot Horses, Don t They? might refer to: *They Shoot Horses, Don t They? (novel), by Horace McCoy *They Shoot Horses, Don t They?, a 1969 film adapted from the above novel *They Shoot Horses, Don t They? (song), a hit single by the Welsh… …   Wikipedia

  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? — Título Danzad, danzad, malditos Ficha técnica Dirección Sydney Pollack Producción Robert Chartoff Johnny Green Theodore B. Sills …   Wikipedia Español

  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? — Filmdaten Deutscher Titel: Nur Pferden gibt man den Gnadenschuß Originaltitel: They Shoot Horses, Don t They? Produktionsland: USA Erscheinungsjahr: 1969 Länge: 119 Minuten Originalsprache: Englisc …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (novel) — Infobox Book name = They Shoot Horses, Don t They title orig = translator = image caption = author = Horace McCoy illustrator = cover artist = country = United States language = English series = subject = genre = publisher = Simon Schuster… …   Wikipedia

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  • They Shoot Horses, Don't They? — On achève bien les chevaux On achève bien les chevaux Titre original They Shoot Horses, Don t They? Réalisation Sydney Pollack Acteurs principaux Jane Fonda Michael Sarrazin Gig Young Scénario Robert E. Thompson James Poe inspiré du roman de… …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Don Durant — Born Donald Allison Durae November 20, 1932(1932 11 20) Long Beach, California, USA Died March 15, 2005(2005 03 15) (aged 72) Monarch Beach, California, USA Spouse Trudy Wroe Durant (1931 2 …   Wikipedia

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