Pauline Kael

"Fortunately, Gloria, who is the raw nerve of the movie, is played by Jane Fonda, who has been a charming, witty nudie cutie in recent years and now gets a chance at an archetypal character. Sharp-tongued Gloria, the hard, defiantly masochistic girl who expects nothing and gets it, the girl who thinks the worst of everybody and makes everybody act it out, the girl who can't ask anybody for anything except death, is the strongest role an American actress has had on the screen this year. Jane Fonda goes all the way with it, as screen actresses rarely do once they become stars. She doesn't try to save some ladylike part of herself, the way even a good actress like Audrey Hepburn does, peeping at us from behind "vulgar" roles to assure us she's not really like that. Jane Fonda gives herself totally to the embodiment of this isolated, morbid girl who is determined to be on her own, who can't let go and trust anybody, who is so afraid of being gullible that she can't live. Gloria is not just without false hope but without hope; she's not an easy girl to like when she goads the pregnant woman to get rid of her baby or when she rebuffs all gestures of comfort of sympathy. Jane Fonda makes one understand the self-destructive courage of a certain kind of loner, and because she has the true star's gift of drawing one to her emotionally even when the character she plays is repellent, her Gloria, like Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs, is one of those complex creations who live on as part of our shared experience. Jane Fonda stands a good chance of personifying American tensions and dominating our movies in the seventies as Bette Davis did in the thirties; if so, Gloria will be but one in a gallery of brilliant American characters."

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, December 20, 1969
Deeper Into Movies, p. 71

David Thomson

"....There are also two performances--Gig Young as the MC and Jane Fonda as the leading figure--that are beyond dispute the darkest voice of the thirties and its despair.... As for Jane Fonda, for all the enthusiasm for the way she has survived as a "pretty" woman of her age, you have to see her unflinching nihilism in this film to know what was survived.

"....There are many other fine supporting performances.... But all the good work amounts to a superb, fatalistic ensemble in which Young and Fonda are the tireless sources of inflection or disbelief."

David Thomson, Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, p. 876

(post originally published August 28, 2013)

(photo credit to - Essential Film Performances 2012
Fonda in They Shoot Horses is by Austin Dale)

John Simon

"As Gloria, that fine little actress, Jane Fonda, graduates into a fine big actress. If there is one thing wrong with the performance, it is the vestige of a Vassar accent; other than that, it is solid, untricky acting, squeezing all the juice out of the part but not churning up its rind. What impressed me most is that I did not really recognize Miss Fonda--and I don't mean the frizzed hair and other tricks of make-up, good as they are. I mean that the actress here gives an antipodal performance: there is none of the glitter, kittenish, or jollity that have been her specialties in the past. But even her hardness has (unlike in Spirits of the Dead) a lining of humanity, and there is something about her very toughness that repeatedly moves us. and there are even fortuitous benefits: Miss Fonda has fascinatingly long, spatulate fingers--hands that are bony and poignant without being aristocratic or beautiful. They show up splendidly in the two-shots on her partner's shoulders and appear to be the hands of both Death and the Maiden."

John Simon, National Review ?, January 1970
     reprinted in Movies Into Film, p. 84

Ethan Mordden

"There is one fighter left, Jane Fonda. But some of the causes she fights for are despicable... She has Ingrid Bergman's pioneer work in the star's personal revolution to thank for her rehabilitation as a national heroine after a few years of industry boycott... But Fonda has resisted the film noir legacy that types strong women as cheats, maniacs, killers, and whores--imitation bad men. It is fitting that she gave her finest performance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), a Depression-era film of uncompromising social opinion....

"...."Will fortune reward her pluck and spirit?" [emcee] Young asks his audience when Fonda temporarily dances alone... "Will she make it?"

"She can't. She has lost the ability to believe in fairness, charity, and luck. She has lost it because there aren't any.... They Shoot Horses is about the cruelty of capitalism. As the marathon applicants are checked in, aged sailor Red Buttons likens them to cattle on a boat. No, says Fonda--they feed cattle. And there's her face for the first view in the film, angry, hopeless, early old. Buttons comes back, "They kill cattle," and Fonda replies, "That puts them one up on us, doesn't it?" It's a pregnant exchange, for Buttons is virtually slaughtered, exhausted to death; and Fonda really would rather be dead than live so meanly....

"...."Maybe the whole damn world is like Central Casting," she tells us. "They got it all rigged before you even show up."

"Some said the 1969 Oscar contest was rigged so Fonda couldn't win. Her politics were uninformed, strident, and anti-establishment in the extreme. Many assumed that Word had gone out against her before the voting. Any acting citation that passes over a performance of the strength and clarity of Fonda's in They Shoot Horses is hurting itself more than it's hurting Fonda. Still, the winner, Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, gave a competitive performance. Besides, the acting Oscars prefer to go not to unique talents but to dues-paying stars who turn in image-defining portrayals...."

Ethan Mordden, Movie Star: A Look at the Women Who Made Hollywood (1983), p. 275-77

"....Fonda was criticized for being too resourceful a figure to have sunk to the level of the doomed. She has the power to outlast everybody and win the marathon....

"But isn't it the very point of this work that an economic system of such asymmetrical breadth that some have more than enough and some have nothing oppresses the nothings so fiercely that even the most reliant spirit will shatter? It is Bonnie Bedelia who shyly toots her way through "The Best Things in Life Are Free," then dives for the pennies the audience tosses. That's one picture. That's sympathetic, pitiable. But Fonda, ice and fire that she is, begging Sarrazin to kill her because the misery is unbearable is another picture. That's terrifying."

Mordden, Medium Cool (19  ), p. 277-78.

Manny Farber

"....One curious thing about 1969 acting--Jane Fonda's jugular wisecracker silencing everybody in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Michel Bouquet's meek-murderous husband ... in La  Femme Infidele ... is that it inhabits a much smaller space than the ballroom-museum-golf-course that Katharine Hepburn treats as her oyster in Bringing Up Baby. The attitude is all different from Hepburn's egotistical-bitchy "Oh, Davids!" Both Audran (Infidele) and Jane Fonda appear to own every inch of a small principality that extends about six inches to any side of their bodies, and anything else in the horizon is uncontrollable, unattainable, and therefore hardly concerns them. Where Roz Russell in His Girl Friday and Hepburn are swashbucklers running everyone in sight, particularly men, Audran's skillful niggling act of undulating sensuality or Fonda's stubborn life-loathing is very inside, grudging, thoughtful, always faced toward the situation--nothing escapes their suspicious cool observance. It is heroic acting, but it is also enclosed, inclement, and battle ready."

Manny Farber, Introduction, Negative Space (
    as re-printed in The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, p. 691-92

(post originally published August 28, 2013)

Stanley Kauffmann

"The director, Sydney Pollack, has said ... that when the charters of a novel are put on a screen, they must be filled in with action and dialogue so that they won't seem hollow. But the whole point of Gloria is that she should seem hollow. The filling-in, the provision of little climaxes and of switches to her viewpoint, make her an aggressive toughie, almost as if she were conscious of being tough in a movie.

"Jane Fonda plays the role, and readers may remember that I have been enthusiastic about her possibilities as actress ever since her film debut ten years ago. She has given some very good performances and some very lazy, absentminded ones since then. Here, in this italicized character, she supplies a cutting edge that at least gives it presence. She is made up and coiffured to look like a harpy in a Lynd Ward woodcut of the thirties, and she gets an effective ham relish out of her moral slumming. But there is a fundamental flaw, which Pollack has not caught:  Miss Fonda plays this Texas-born tramp with her own good Eastern finishing-school accent. She says "goddam" as if the term following were going to be "debutante's ball" instead of "dance marathon."

"....The only interesting character is the one that has been arranged for Gig Young...."