They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

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Released 15-Feb-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1969
Running Time 114:58
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sydney Pollack
ABC Pictures Corp
MRA Entertainment
Starring Jane Fonda
Michael Sarrazin
Susannah York
Gig Young
Red Buttons
Bonnie Bedelia
Michael Conrad
Bruce Dern
Al Lewis
Robert Fields
Severn Darden
Allyn Ann McLerie
Madge Kennedy
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.95 Music Johnny Green

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.30:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Yowza, Yowza, Yowza...

   In the depression years of the 20's and 30's, dance marathons were very common across America. These marathons exploited people who were so desperate for money that they would dance almost non-stop for days, even up to months in some cases. Elimination occurred when a contestant simply couldn't go on and fell to the floor, or stopped moving for a period of time.

   The contestants endured total exhaustion in the hope of winning a cash prize of usually hundreds of dollars, but the lure of shelter and plenty of food also provided a more immediate motivation to participate.

   Organisers would hopefully make their profit by charging a small admission fee to spectators who would flock to these events around the clock to cheer on their favourites, in this time of doom and gloom.

  Based on the Horace McCoy novel of the same name, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a brutally honest and powerful film that captures both the phenomenon of the marathon and the depression era wonderfully well.

  Rocky (Gig Young), is the sleazy manager and the master of ceremonies at the Pacific Ballroom. The dance marathon of 1932 is about to begin, and contestants are being called for. The attraction of a $1,500 prize brings in many hopefuls.

  Robert (Michael Sarrazin), is simply observing the sign up process, when he is called on to partner Gloria (Jane Fonda). Gloria's original partner has been declared unfit to enter by the doctor.

   Other hopefuls include James (Bruce Dern), and his pregnant wife, Ruby (Bonnie Bedella), a sailor (Red Buttons) who is no stranger to these marathons, and an actress, Alice (Susannah York), who is hoping to be discovered by one of the many celebrities that attend as audience members.

   When a little more interest and action is needed for audience enjoyment, Rocky calls for "The Derby". This has the contestants walking quickly around the outside of the dance floor for ten solid minutes. The last three couples across the line are eliminated. These scenes are superbly shot by cinematographer, Philip H. Lathrop, and give a truly chaotic and desperate feel to the film.

   We see the frailty and desperation of these characters as they endure days of constant movement on the floor. The contestants begin to fall apart, both physically and mentally as exhaustion takes control of their bodies and minds. This, and a series of short flash-forwards throughout the film, foreshadow a tragic and unforgettable climax.

   They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was director Sydney Pollack's first taste of critical acclaim. The film collected nine Academy Award nominations, winning only one award, that of Best Supporting Actor for Gig Young. Strangely, the film did not receive a Best Picture nomination. It was, however, certainly the film that started Pollack's very distinguished career as a director that continues to this day.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer is quite good, despite a few small issues.

   This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of  2.30:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio of the film is 2.35:1.

   The transfer was very clear and clean overall, without being particularly sharp. Blacks and shadows were fine in general terms, although there was some minor low level noise in a couple of darker scenes.

   Colours are soft and muted, suiting the film beautifully. Colours have been well rendered overall, with skin tones appearing quite natural.

   There was some noise reduction evident a few times, especially in earlier scenes. This was thankfully on a very minor scale, and needed close inspection to pick up clearly. It mainly affected moving faces, with an example occurring at 31:09. This artefact would not be noticeable on a smaller display. A minor digital tape dropout occurs at 78:52 that is very brief and isn't a real concern. I found no significant problems with aliasing and edge enhancement. There was a minor telecine wobble at 103:17 and splice markings were evident at 106:44. For a film of this age, film artefacts were surprisingly few and weren't distracting at all. All the artefacts listed here were of a very minor nature on the screen. Although certainly not perfect, I believe this is the best transfer from any medium that I have seen of this film to date.

   Unfortunately, there are no subtitles at all on this disc.

   This is a single sided, single layered disc, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   The audio transfer is really quite good.

   There is one audio track on the DVD - English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s) surround encoded.

   Dialogue quality was clear and easily understood right throughout the film. There was, however, some annoying hiss evident when volume was increased. There were no problems with audio sync.

   The music is credited to John Green. He wrote the music to an original song used in the film entitled Easy Come, Easy Go, although most of the music used is by various artists popular at the time set in the film. All the music used perfectly caters to the action on the screen.

   The surround channels were used for ambience and music, although the soundtrack was very frontal. I didn't really notice the surrounds much on the first viewing. There was a small amount of distortion at decent volume, but this wasn't overly distracting.

   The subwoofer kicked in beautifully when required, and provided some nice punch to some big band numbers.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


   There are no extras on this disc.


   The menu is static, silent and very basic. It is 16x9 enhanced, with only two options; Play Movie and Index.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   I found two R1 versions of this DVD. The first was released in 1999, and is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but is not 16x9 enhanced. It also contains a very brief (six minute) behind-the-scenes featurette and theatrical trailer.

   The latest R1 version, released in 2004 by MGM Home Entertainment, is 16x9 enhanced and is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This version also does not contain any subtitles or extras.

   Even though the R4 version has a reasonably good PAL transfer, the latest R1 version is the probable winner due to its 16x9 enhancement.


   They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is an intense and harrowing drama, filled with outstanding performances from a fine cast.

   I have seen the film about eight times over the years, and it still packs a serious punch. Considering the film is thirty six years old, it really hasn't dated much in terms of the overall impact it can have on an audience.

   The video and audio transfers are of a good standard, considering the film's age.

   An excellent film deserves some excellent extras. Unfortunately though, there are none on this DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDJVC XV-N412, using Component output
DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

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Comments (Add)
R1 2004 release from MGM is non-anamorphic - Anonymous REPLY POSTED