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Gloria is a young woman of the Depression. She has aged beyond her years and feels her life is hopeless, having been cheated and betrayed many times in her past. While recovering from a suicide attempt, she gets the idea from a movie magazine to head for Hollywood to make it as an actress. Robert is a desperate Hollywood citizen trying to become a director, never doubting that he'll make it. Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter a dance marathon, one of the crazes of the thirties. The grueling dancing takes its toll on Gloria's already weakened spirit, and she tells Robert that she'd be better off dead, that her life is hopeless - all the while acting cruelly and bitterly, alienating those around her, trying to convince him to shoot her and put her out of her misery. After all, they shoot horses, don't they? Written by
When I saw this movie in the theater over 35 years ago, I found it very interesting and one of those movies you don't forget about an hour after you leave the theater. This was a haunting type of story, especially when my folks, who went with me, informed me that these marathon type of dance contests really did happen. The characters might have been fictional, but not story of these awful contests.
Jane Fonda plays the central character, "Gloria Beatty," an angry-at-the-world and profane woman who certainly has a cynical attitude. It almost echoed her real-life persona at the time, but I won't go there. I was more fascinated with Gig Young's performance in this film as the ruthless dance promoter - emcee "Rocky." To me - and Academy Award voters - his performance stands out among all the others, even though everyone does an outstanding job. That includes director Sydney Pollack, who had only made a few movies until this one.
The deep cast in this film did not include big-name stars but they were known celebrities: actors like Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Red Buttons, Bonnie Bedalia, Bruce Dern and Al Lewis.
This is a sad tale of desperate people in desperate times trying to make a few extra bucks during the Great Depression years. Dancing in pairs, they literally risked their health by trying to stay on their feet by dancing longer than every other couple. One became mentally exhausted just watching these poor people on screen trying to survive these "marathons."
Like a lot of movies which deal with unpleasant topics, this is a haunting film that will leave you thinking about it for a long time afterward. I can't say I enjoyed watching it the second time around, on VHS - Fonda's nastiness too much to take - but I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from watching this movie. It's a story about an unique event in American history guaranteed to be one you won't forget.
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