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They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

M/PG | | Drama | 1970 (Norway)
3:04 | Trailer
The lives of a disparate group of contestants intertwine in an inhumanely grueling dance marathon.


Sydney Pollack


Horace McCoy (novel), James Poe (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Won 1 Oscar. Another 9 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jane Fonda ... Gloria
Michael Sarrazin ... Robert
Susannah York ... Alice
Gig Young ... Rocky
Red Buttons ... Sailor
Bonnie Bedelia ... Ruby
Michael Conrad ... Rollo
Bruce Dern ... James
Al Lewis ... Turkey
Robert Fields Robert Fields ... Joel
Severn Darden ... Cecil
Allyn Ann McLerie ... Shirl
Madge Kennedy ... Mrs. Laydon
Jacquelyn Hyde ... Jackie
Felice Orlandi ... Mario


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 alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


People are the ultimate spectacle




M/PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

1970 (Norway) See more »

Also Known As:

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(original) | (current)

Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Barbara Parkins was offered, but turned down, a role in this film. See more »


When Sailor (Red Buttons) is passed out, two referees take his pants off him to dunk him into a tub of ice water; Buttons lifts up his hips so they can easily remove his pants. See more »


[last lines]
Rocky: Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST?
See more »


Referenced in Happy Days: They Shoot Fonzies, Don't They? (1976) See more »


I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)
(1931) (uncredited)
Music by Harry Warren
Played at the Dance Marathon
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Fascinating but tragic movie about desperate people dancing at a competitive contest during the Depression Era
28 March 2019 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

1932 , Great Depression . A group of hopeless and unfortunate people participate at a dance marathon contest on the Santa Monica Pier in California . Among them is the disillusioned and frustrated Gloria (Jane Fonda , formerly Julie Christie and Barbra Streisand turned down this character) . While recovering from a suicide attempt, she gets the idea from a movie magazine to head for Hollywood to make it as a player and subsequently to take part at the marathon . Later on , Robert (Michael Sarrazin) is suddenly involved into the dance marathon , but never doubting he'll make it . Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter the dance marathon , one of the crazes of the 1930's. Reckless contestants enter a dance marathon in the hopes of winning a cash price , not realizing that they will be driven to exhaustion . How long will they last ? . 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 and all the while acting cruelly and bitterly . People are the ultimate spectacle . After all, they shoot horses, don't they?

Sydney Pollack's rendition of Horace McCoy's prestigious novel about the competitive dance marathon of the Depression Era , including overblown and and impressive interpretations . We are given a depressing view of ruthless humanity , but it results to be riveting . This a thought-provoking , brooding and powerful period piece depicting the tumultuous lives of a misfit group of contestants , dealing with the desperation of the Depression years , while the dancers intertwine in an inhumanely grueling dance marathon , adding some frightening and frantically derby sequences , in which participants donning roller skates . The implication around the competitors' situation turns out to be a motley microcosm of a wider-reaching American malaise . Although being rather pretentious and safely distanced by the Depression period and the continuous flashback and flash-forward narrative . Settings are pretty well designed to show the environment and period piece , though it seems to be some claustrophobic , at times . And decent language written by the notorious screenwriter James Poe attempting to capture the intricate sense of the original dialogue written by Horace McCoy . Jane Fonda gives a good acting as the bitter Gloria , a young woman of the Depression who has aged beyond her years and feels her life is hopeless , having been cheated and betrayed many times in her past , alienating those around her, trying to convince to shoot and put out of her misery. Acceptable Michael Sararrazin as a desperate Hollywood citizen attempting to be a director and he suddenly becomes involved in a grueling dancing . Jane Fonda was the main favorite to win the Best Actress Oscar for her acting in this film, so it came as a surprise when she lost to Maggie Smith for The prime of Miss Brodie (1969) . Exceptional , though strident acting from Gig Young who got his Academy Award for performing the promotor of this thirties dance marathon . Support cast is frankly extraordinary , such as : Susannah York , Red Buttons , Bonnie Bedelia , Michael Conrad , Bruce Dern , Art Metrano , Severn Darden , Jacquelyn Hyde , Madge Kennedy , Al Lewis and many others . It was enthusiastically received when first realesed and had a string of Academy Award nominations , several of them for its performances . This is a multi-awarded movie for its cast , and sensational costumes , production design , musical score by Johnny Green and photography by Philip H. Lathrop .

The motion picture well produced by two great producers : Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff from Rocky saga , and was competently directed by Sydney Pollack , though using a peculiar narration , plenty of flash-back and forth images . The film had a great number of prizes and nominations , such as : Oscar 69 : support cast , actor Gig Young , though it holds the record for the movie with the most Academy Award nominations without a nomination for Best Picture: Nine ; Golden Globes : support actor Gig Young ; N.Y Film Critics : Actress : Jane Fonda ; British Academy Support actress : Susannah York . Sydney Pollack was a magnificent director , producer and secondary actor with several hits on all kind of genres , such as : ¨This property is condemned¨, ¨The way we were¨, ¨Absence of malice¨, ¨ 3 days of the Condor¨, ¨The scalphunters¨, ¨Jeremiah Johnson¨, ¨Bobby Deerfield¨, ¨The electric horsememan¨, ¨The firm¨ , ¨Out of Africa¨ , ¨Tootsie¨, ¨Yakuza¨ , ¨Sabrina¨, ¨Havana¨, ¨Random hearts¨, and his last movie , the documentary : ¨Sketches of Frank Gehry¨, among others . The flick will appeal to Jane Fonda fans and drama enthusiasts.

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