Saturday, May 2, 2009

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Today is the Kentucky Derby. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of horse racing. I don't understand why it gets called the "sport of kings", while auto racing (for which I also don't care) is thought of, especially by the sort of people who seem to be bigger horse racing fans, as a low-class sport. Never mind that if a poor horse breaks its leg (Barbaro, anybody?), it has to be put down.

I can think of a number of horses killed in the movies. Back in the day, of course, they had to shoot a horse on the spot; none of the euthanasia drugs we have today. In some cases, the horses had to be killed out of necessity. Tippi Hedren's horse fails to clear a jump in Marnie, breaking a leg in the process. Hedren's response is to go absolutely nuts, screaming for somebody -- anybody -- to shoot the poor horse. Slightly worse is the opening land-rush scene of the 1930s version of Cimarron. Estelle Taylor and her horse take a tumble down a hill into a ravine, and she calls for help to leading man Richard Dix. He puts the horse out of its misery -- but Taylor repays him by stealing his horse and his land claim!

A much more malicious shooting of a horse occurs in The Public Enemy. James Cagney's gangster has a very close friend who got him into the mob business. When that friend dies in an accident with a horse, Cagney's violent response is to go to the stables and shoot the horse dead. In all of these cases, of course, we only hear the gunshot, with the implication that the horse is dead; we don't see the horse's head jerk like John Kennedy's head in the Zapruder film.

On the other hand, there's the famous scene in The Godfather in which we actually see a real horse's head....

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