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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1935) by Horace McCoy

Jane Fonda played Gloria Beatty in the 1969 movie version of the 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don't They

Book Review
They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1935)
 by Horace McCoy

  A misunderstood failure when initially published in America in 1935, They Shoot Horses, Don't They was revived by French existentialists after World War II, part of the larger interest in "film noir" during that period in Paris. Told in a continuous flashback by the narrator, who is facing execution on California's death row after the murder of a woman, the action of They Shoot Horses, Don't They takes place during a lengthy depression-era dance marathon. 

   They Shoot Horses, Don't They is an outlier in 1930s and 1940s crime fiction in terms of the extremely bleak and proto-existentialist attitude of both the narrator and the victim.  The title is what the narrator tells the cops when they ask him why he killed his dance marathon partner, Gloria Beatty.  Gloria is a striking character, who is obsessed with death and the prospect of dining.  Unlike the traditional crime fiction/film noir "femme fatale,"  Gloria is not a hot to trot sex pot, but an aging, fading, wannabe.  Adapted into a film in the late 60s by Sydney Pollack, the idea of a crime drama with an endless dance party as a back drop is a concept that contains vitality even today.  It's not hard to imagine an EDM Of They Shoot Horses, Don't They popping up at Sundance in the near future. 

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