The dance of death

The bedraggled dance marathoners in Sydney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969).  This was one of Jane Fonda’s first “serious actress” roles, and she’s damn good as Gloria, the haggard, desperate dance contestant for whom the contest is her last shot at success before giving up on life.  It’s of a piece with her Oscar-winning roles in Klute (1971) and Coming Home (1978), all of which are driven by Fonda’s particular toughness and political ire.  Here, that ire is directed at the dance contest itself and all it stands for—show business, Hollywood, the American Dream.  As Gloria puts it, “it’s all rigged before you even show up.”  It’s a curious film that’s not much talked about anymore, in spite of its nine Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor win for Gig Young.  Also noteworthy in a supporting role is Susannah York as a would-be Hollywood starlet who shows up to the dance contest in a glittering silver gown and is gradually reduced to the state of a broken doll.     

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