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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 27 November 2005
The story opens at the height of the Depression in a seedy, boardwalk auditorium. A Dance Marathon is about to begin; couples who have neither money nor hope have a chance to win a grand prize of $1500 by dancing the longest. We get to know and empathize with several couples as they dance for hours, days, and weeks before a strange crowd of spectators who throw pennies and cheer for the "show." Bitter and tired-of-life Gloria (Jane Fonda) is paired with Robert (Michael Sarrazin), a wide-eyed innocent from the country. The marathon is incredibly grueling and dehumanizing, and that's just the way the manic host (Oscar winner Gig Young) likes it.
This is a fascinating look at the dance marathons that really took place in America during the Depression, when people were willing to risk their health (and their lives) for the meals that were provided and a chance at the money. Each of the dancers we meet is unique, sympathetic, and believable. Fonda gives a masterful performance as the hopeless Gloria, and at the end she utters the wonderfull and haunting title line. Sarrazin is good, but doesn't quite have the star quality to match Fonda's. It's a sad film that brings to mind the days of Romans holding their thumbs up or down while bloodied gladiators fought to the death. The story is fittingly left unresolved, just like the bleak lives of the contestants. I recommend this outstanding film, directed by Sydney Pollack.
Kona
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on 1 December 2002
You could go down the list: Fonda, Sarazin, York , Gig Young, Red Buttons, Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedalia, all turned in the performances of their careers under Pollack's taught direction. This really is a sadly neglected masterpiece. I've never found it in a video store and certainly wouldn't expect to see it popping up any time soon at the local megastore. I ordered it in the widescreen VHS version from Amazon, which was fine. Then the DVD came out and I snatched it up immediately. It's eassy to report that am just as impressed as I when I saw it on its inital theatrical release back in 1969. This film probably had as great an impact on me as any movie-going experience I've had before or since. Revisiting it now I see that it wasn't only its appeal to disillusioned youth. The film is a stark statement about the human condition, of the "as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods" variety.
The movie motivated me to seek out McCoy's novella upon which it's based, and I would heartily recommend it also. It and Nathaniel West's Day of the Locusts are probably the most hard-edged accounts of life in Hollywood in the 30s that I have come across. As noted, Gig Young won an Oscar for his performance here. The fact that he blew his brains out shortly thereafter is not only sadly ironic, in lieu of the ending of this film, but also understandable. The level of world-weariness that he portrays on the screen must have been close to what he was feeling in real life. But all the characterizations in TSHDT are remarkably vivid. I can't guess why Fonda didn't receive an Oscar for her portrayal of Gloria. It certainly surpasses her performance in Klute. Sure, she is given some of the most priceless lines ever scripted, but her delivery is flawless.
Actually, everything about this movie is flawless. It just couldn't have been done any better. It's one of the finest-paced pieces of filmaking you will ever encounter. Sitting in the theatre, I nearly jumped out of my skin every time that damned siren sounded to get the contestants back on the floor. The movie is relentless. As an audience, we experience viscerally the journey into hell that the contestants are embarked upon. By the end of the picture, we are left emotionally and spiritually drained. I'm sure one of the reasons this picture isn't more "popular" is due to the ending. It's not your typical Hollywood musical gaiety to say the least. But I for one found it cathartic in the same way a Greek tragedy is. It had the same sense of inevitability. Our struggles are sometimes thwarted by cosmic forces over which we have no control, whether it be fate or central-casting.
The soundtrack is an absolutely perfect accompaniment to the action ocurring on the screen. Much of the time it serves as an ironic backdrop, as when "By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea" is played as the human demolition "derby" is ocurring in the dance-hall. It is also some of the best music ever, flawlessly performed. I bought the soundtrack when it first came out and I recommend it highly also. If there were anything else I could recommend about this film, I would. I can't find enough superlatives to truly express myself here, however, so I'll just say BUY IT!
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on 30 November 2002
To me Pollack & company perfectly realized Horace McCoy's saturnine vision. This is the most relentless, hard-knuckled, diabolically-paced piece of filmmaking ever. There is not a dishonest moment in the movie. It's also the greatest example of ensemble acting I've ever seen on screen as well. Everyone involved in the production gave every ounce of themselves and it shows. It may have finished off Gig Young. His portrayal of the "Yowzer, Yowzering" MC is the most cynical, world-weary characterization ever expressed on celluloid. It doesn't surprise me that he checked out in real life shortly after winning an Oscar for his supporting role. Jane Fonda gives the performance of her life as Gloria. She would have won an Oscar here if she hadn't recently received one for Klute. There's no use in singling out anyone else, though Suzannah York truly deserved her Oscar as well. Everyone in this movie deserved an Oscar. I would have given one to the second-grip, if there were an award for that.
The soundtrack is absolutely first-rate. I owned it on vinyl, but can't find it on CD unfortunately. If anyone out there is aware of a CD release, would you please send me mail? I've never known another soundtrack that served as such perfect accompaniment to the action on screen. Sometimes it served as a great vehicle for irony (as if this film needed any more of that!). The second "Derby" sequence is a great case-in-point. As The Sailor (Red Buttons) is literally expiring from exhaustion, the band is playing "By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea." The dancehall is situated on a pier above the Pacific. The metaphors come fast and furious in this movie. It rewards repeated viewings. McCoy's novel is pretty good too, along the lines of Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust.
...you can't make a better investment if you are any kind of film buff or just want a good kick in the emotional keister. Not for the sentimental type. About as fierce and unflinching a look into the depths of the human spirit as you are likely to come across. One of the finest movies ever.
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on 4 April 2007
I'm relieved to see from my fellow reviewers that's I'm not the only person who rates this life-changing movie among the best ever made. How many films work so effectively as both a superficial (and historical) drama with award-winning acting, and an existential allegory that punches home the hopelessness of the human spirit, raging against the going out of the light as it is flung screaming into a pitiless oblivion?

I have never met anyone with whom I can share the quiet satisfaction I felt as the meaning of the film slowly dawned on me the first time I saw it. Madness, obsession, poverty, desperation and fear surround the story of Jane Fonda's character, the survivor, but also the anti-hero (antithesis to Sigourney Weaver's conventional hero in Alien). Existence is not enough; she wants to "win" but as she finds at the end, there is no winning, no escape: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".
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on 13 July 2010
This I saw when it first came out and it was one of those films I never forgot.Susannah york gives, what I consider, the best performance of her career.Jane Fonda is no slouch here either.Gig Young gives a master class in how to play the cynical m/c.In fact ALL the actors (bit players upwards)give amazing performances.Not a light weight film by any means and parts of it can be a bit hard to watch,but very moving and this version dvd does it full justice.highly recommended
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on 21 December 2014
A1 the best
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on 26 February 2011
This is a film where I was expecting something to happen, but it doesn't. It's just people dancing round a room for hours on end. Characterisation is very poor, we don't get to learn about the backgrounds of the contestants in the dance-a-thon. The acting is hit and miss. I got the impression that they wanted Robert Redford for the lead male role, but couldn't afford him, so they got someone who looks a bit like Redford, and gave him the character name Robert. This actor, Michael Sarrazin, delivers probably one of the most wooden performances I have ever seen. I would have given this one star, but Fonda and a couple of the others give good performances. However, I consider the script to be tiresome and tedious and that overall it was a well made, but mediocre effort.
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