|Robert (Sarrazin) and Gloria (Fonda) in Horses|
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler
Written by Horace McCoy (novel)/James Poe and Robert E. Thompson (screenplay)
Starring Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Gig Young, Susannah York, and Red Buttons
Gig Young and Jane Fonda lead an ensemble cast in Sydney Pollack's Oscar-winning drama about a marathon dance contest. The story begins when Gloria (Fonda) enters the intense competition, which is run by the smooth-talking, always-in-control ringmaster Rocky (Young). He plays the game, knows the score, and puts the contestants into the ring as a show for the paying customers. Along with her impromptu partner Robert (Sarrazin), Gloria and the other couples are made to dance for weeks, and they are even subjected to races in which the last three finishers are eliminated from the contest. Couples are whittled down until only a few remain. Despite the fact that they are still in the competition, Gloria is deeply troubled, and she asks Robert to put her out of her misery. Though tragedy befalls these two, the film ends with the show going on, as it must.
This film is full of interesting characters, and the number of subplots does not detract from the overall narrative. Being an ensemble piece is a great strength here because it opens up the film, while also showing just what kinds of people would enter such a hellish contest. With the aid of a confident director and a good script, the performances succeed in connecting with the viewer, making these characters likable, loathsome, pitiful, and even endearing. Granted, Fonda and Sarrazin are the main attraction, but Young's performance and, to a lesser extent, York's are far more effective, fleshing out the emotional baggage of their weary characters. It is quite an accomplishment for all involved to have created a movie so compelling out of this story. The film never strays too far off course, and it still offers a relevant look at "the show" people want to see, which might now be more like Big Brother or Survivor. Largely forgotten, this remains a minor gem from yesteryear.
Oscar Tally: Win for Best Supporting Actor (Young); Nominations for Best Director (Pollack), Best Actress (Fonda), Best Supporting Actress (York), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Musical Score (Original or Adapted)