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 he'll make it. Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter a dance marathon, one of the crazes of the 1930's. 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
There's a bushel of fine performances to be found on the pier dance hall floor in this grim depression era story about marathon dancers. A popular entertainment in its day the competition would go on round the clock for days with contestants working themselves into a state of exhaustion and collapse in the hope of winning a meager prize. With massive unemployment across the country there was no shortage of contestants and Horses is filled with hard luck cases.
Director Sidney Pollack keeps the pace brisk by inter-cutting scenes between his large cast then amps things up further with dizzying elimination races. Hard luck hoofers Michael Sarrizin, Sussanah York, Red Buttons, Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia all contribute powerful performances while Jane Fonda with hard edged cynicism delivers arguably the best acting job of her career. It is Gig Young as the emcee however that steals the film. A light comedy actor in most films Young's jaded good looks and forced optimism ("Yowsa, yowsa") to rouse the audience into thinking the torture on the floor is wholesome entertainment is an incredible portrait of calibrated hypocrisy and exploitation.
Horses oozes cynicism from start to finish with no let up. There is not an ounce of comedy relief and the few scenes that take place outside the dark stifling dance hall in the welcome sun serves only the despair back inside where a sentimental audience tosses coins to a pregnant Bonnie Bedelia warbling "The best things in life are free." Without any upbeat distractions the film can become an endurance of melancholy for the viewer but Pollack and company keep things highly absorbing most of the way in what might be termed a dark piece of historical nostalgia .
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