They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Poster

In the midst of the Great Depression, manipulative emcee Rocky enlists contestants for a dance marathon offering a $1,500 cash prize. Among them are a failed actress, a middle-aged sailor, a delusional blonde and a pregnant girl.

Film Overview
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is a 1969 movie directed by Sydney Pollack, based on the similarly powerful Horace McCoy novel of the very same name. This touching story uses a grim representation of the Great Depression period, illustrating the desperate lengths that people went to make it through during those difficult times.

The movie mainly focuses on the lives of people getting in a dance marathon competitors in California during the Great Depression duration. The primary characters are Gloria, played by Jane Fonda, and Robert, played by Michael Sarrazin. Fonda's character is a negative, bitter girl embittered by life, while Sarrazin's Robert is an ignorant, young aspiring movie director. The dance marathon promises a reward of $1,500-- comparable to practically $30,000 in today's money-- to the last couple that stays standing, making it a tantalizing prospect for the desperate individuals.

As the competition progresses, it ends up being an endurance test for the dancers. They turn out to be mere pawns in a capitalist circus, exploited for audience home entertainment. The film shows how the entrants' desperation for survival leads them to humiliation, destruction, and even death as they dance their problems away.

Characters and Performances
Jane Fonda's representation of Gloria is masterful. Her negative outlook and blunt method mask her desperation and frustrations. Michael Sarrazin, as the kind-hearted however ignorant Robert, who falls under Gloria's influence, gives a wonderfully contrasting efficiency. The supporting cast, including Red Buttons as aging sailor Harry and Susannah York as enthusiastic starlet Alice, contributes to the vibrant chemistry that makes the movie so mentally compelling.

Style and Symbolism
The movie is a potent review of capitalism. It symbolizes the illusion of the American Dream and the exploitation of desperate individuals in perpetual pursuit of it. The dance marathon is metaphorically representative of life's frequently fruitless and exhausting battles for survival.

The title, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is a poignant reference made by Gloria, who compares their intense condition with that of a racehorse she had actually seen being put down since it couldn't perform any longer. The line becomes a metaphor for the severe truths of life, questioning the credibility of human suffering when their lives aren't worth living.

Cinematic Style and Critique
The movie utilizes ingenious storytelling strategies, including flashbacks, that interrupt the story in the present with peeks into the characters' pasts and offer insight into their inspirations and disappointments. The plain visual design and melancholic music add to the overall gloomy atmosphere the film produces.

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" provides an achingly sensible representation of desperation, anguish, and disillusionment. In spite of its bleak representation of human existence, it provides a profound socio-political review. It's a heartbreaking example of cinema capturing historic truths and translating them into a brilliant representation of human endurance and survival versus all odds.

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