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"Midnight Cowboy" is the story of a young naive Texas boy (Joe Buck)
played by Jon Voight who believes that there is more to life than the
abuse and hardship he has experience thus far and seeks to find his
fortune and fame in the "Big Apple" by utilizing his god given talents.
It does not take Buck long too realize the cold harsh reality of the
big city and things are not only as easy as they initially appear, it
is here that he happens upon a street smart con man Ricco (Ratso) Rizzo
(played by Dustin Hoffman) who offers to take Buck under his wing and
help manage his one man endeavor of getting the entire female (or
possibly male) population of New York to pay for his unique and well
The backdrop for this John Schlesinger film is New York City during the late sixties; a period when Times Square was at it worst and the seedy under life was most prevalent. It is here that the basic theme of the story evolves as Buck and Ratso begin to develop a co-dependent relationship as Buck receives tutelage and guidance from Ratso while continuing to only find disappointment after disappointment. Schlesinger does a wonderful job of creating a compelling story about companionship utilizing unique cinema graphic and sound editing techniques (like changing color shots to black and white) including reflective camera angles, montages and flashback scenes.
As there relationship continues develop and their feeling for one another evolve viewers may begin to question how deep that affection for one another goes. Though this is never actually witnessed on film (unlike the film Brokeback Mountain) a case could be made that the relational ship comparisons' do exist. While their internal and external conflicts continue Ratso and Buck come to terms with the fact that success can not be had in New York City (and that a change of climate would do wonders for Ratso failing health) they decide that their venture is much better off in Florida.
Despite the harsh cinematic qualities and graphic nature of the film both main actors deliver award winning performances that allow the underlying theme to be driven home, a message of caring and compassion between two individuals so different from the other but yet in need of the same thing, Love.
The MPAA (Motion picture Association of America) was created in 1922 in
order to regulate movie making in the United States by all the six
major studios. In 1930, they created the Hayes Code, used to tell what
could and couldn't be in a movie. The Code was used for 38 years, until
1968, when it was replaced by the rating system used even today by the
MPAA. And when the rating system started, the worst rate a movie could
get was and still is the X rating, used in most cases only for Adult
movies. But even with a X rating, the 1969 John Schlesinger's movie
'Midnight Cowboy' was able to win 3 Oscars, including best picture,
being the only X-rated movie ever to win an Oscar with such a rating.
This proves how good and powerful this movie is, and how it shocked the
'Midnight Cowboy' tells the story of Joe Buck (John Voight), a Texas greenhorn that, bored with his life in the countryside, decides to move to New York and work as a hustler. But he finds out that life in New York isn't as easy as he thought, until he teams up with a city bum, named Ratzo Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Together, they struggle to survive in the city's hard life, while they become even more good friends. The movie's screenplay is based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy. I haven't read the book in which the movie is based on, but I can say Waldo Salt did a incredible job adapting the Oscar-winning movie's screenplay. There isn't one bit missing, and the movie flows in a incredible way. It doesn't lose its pace in one single moment, and the story here couldn't be better. Throughout these two iconic and unforgettable characters, the movie develops themes like homosexuality, drugs, the life in the city for those who have nothing, prejudice, etc. These themes are all incredibly presented, in a subtle but very ferocious way, reaching out for the very soul of the American society.
The acting here couldn't be any better and this movie couldn't be more well-casted. I dare to say it's one of the best overall acting ever, along with movies like 'Kramer vs. Kramer' or 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. The whole cast does a perfect job, even with small parts. The Oscar-nominated performance by Sylvia Miles as Cass, one of Joe's clients is excellent. The rest of the supporting cast do an equally incredible job, especially Brenda Vaccaro as Shirley, other Joe's client. Aside from the not so-famous but excellent supporting cast, we have in the main roles two major stars, in probably the best performances of both's career - John Voight and Dustin Hoffman. They were both Oscar-nominated for their roles as Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo respectively, and they both lost to John Wayne for his role in 'True Grit'. John Wayne was good, indeed, but his performance wasn't even the half of the job Hoffman and Voight did. This is certainly one of the biggest injustices in Oscar's history, but more for Dustin Hoffman. Of course Voight was also incredible, doing a naive but at the same time wild interpretation, which is perfect for the character, but Hoffman did what is probably one of the best performances by a male actor in movie's history. There isn't anything I can say to describe his work. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
And even with this incredibly good screenplay, and one of the best overall acting ever, this movie wouldn't be the same without the Oscar- winning John Schlesinger's directing work. His direction is very experimental, but who wasn't in 1969? Now that the Hayes Code went down, anything was possible, and Schlesinger utilizes this in a incredible manner. He uses a few long, gentle shots, and others more vivid, with a fast editing when the character was stoned or in his dreams, for example. The use of flashbacks here is also great, as we follow the past events only in Joe's mind, so we don't really find out what happened in Texas with his ex-girlfriend, a quite important subject for the movie's story. Throughout the film, we hear a lot of the original song made for the movie by Fred Neil, called "Everybody's Talking'". While the music is great, in a very nice folk style, its constant use bothers you after a while. The cinematography here also bothered me a little bit, the movie could have a darker treatment.
Overral, 'Midnight Cowboy' is an almost perfect piece of cinema. The winner of the best picture Oscar in 1969, and the only X-rated movie to accomplish this, has a perfect screenplay, with unforgettable characters and dialogs, excellent lines, and a very nice pace. It also features one of the best acting work ever, specially with Dustin Hoffman, in the best work of his career. John Schlesinger is equally great, making this movie a must-see for anyone.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Midnight Cowboy" is one of the many films of the 1960s that
spearheaded the counterculture movement and challenged the cinematic
conservatism of 1940s and 1950s America.
One of the main tenets of modernism is a self-conscious questioning of moral and ethical values. A move against traditions and an overwhelming desire to explore new ideas. To the generation who grew up with the global conflicts and government scandals of the 1960s, an intense questioning of morals became necessary. Artists of the era therefore took on a frontier mentality, with the hopes that the answers to their questions lay somewhere beyond the borders. It is with this frontier mythology that "Midnight Cowboy" begins, and the image of the Cowboy, the lone man making sense of the wilderness, persists throughout.
Dressed as a cowboy, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) sets out to become a male prostitute. Joe wants to leave home, leave his family (whose values he completely rejects), journey on his own and forge his own destiny. Rather than the desolate unsettled west, the frontier he chooses to conquer is the urban jungle of New York City. And so off he goes; note the numerous toy horses and John Wayne posters sprinkled about.
But Joe's outward appearance does more than merely evoke Western mythology. It also serves as a physical manifestation of Joe's need to assert his masculinity. The sixties weren't just an era of civil rights for racial minorities, the period also ushered in a new generation of feminists. As women asserted their independence, men felt threatened and underwent a transformation of their own. As femininity began to be redefined, so to was masculinity. The result of all this is that the 60s were filled with films which either villainize women or move them to the extreme edge of male experience. Hollywood also witnessed a deliberate shift in focus to male-male rather than male-female relationships.
"Midnight Cowboy" takes both of these approaches. Women are of little significance in the film. It focuses instead on the blossoming friendship of Joe (John Voight) and Ratso (Dustin Hoffman). In the rare instances where women are seen, they represent highly (for the time) questionable moral values.
The fact that Joe is a male prostitute, already establishes that women are paying for sex, and far from submissive. This role reversal is a common theme in landmark films of the era. Consider "The Graduate", which has Mrs Robinson sexually dominate a young Dustin Hoffman, or "Bonnie and Clyde", which features an impotent gangster.
These films themselves mirror the sexual encounters Joe has in "Cowboy", in which Joe is always subordinated to women. This subordination takes away, in a sense, his masculinity. This symbolic castration is physically manifested when, after going home with a girl from a party who is willing to pay him for sex, he is unable to perform.
Of course the counterculture movements of the 60s and early 70s had one foremost objective: the discovery of one's true "self". Perceiving "tradition" to be claustrophobic, the movement somewhat naively attempted to break new ground and explore new territories. The issues that they raised, and the changes that were brought about due to their abandoning traditional values, are all connected to the pursuit of individuality and of freedom of thought and expression. And so drugs, sex, morality, family, religion, politics...a bevy of issues were all paraded about as either values to rally behind or tear down.
This cocktail of antagonisms is captured best during a scene late in the film, in which Joe and Ratso find themselves invited to a pseudo-bohemian party. The party is populated by stereotypical counterculture figures, all lost in a haze of marijuana smoke, politics, art and music. There are feminists, homosexuals, artists, and other such types, all spewing maxims or lost in various drug-induced daydreams. These characters aren't judged, however. They're neither right or wrong. It's all just an experience.
But when you break it down, "Midnight Cowboy" is really a counterculture adaptation of "Of Mice and Men" (and a highly reactionary one, some prominent feminist critics have argued). We watch a big dumb man (Jon Voight) and a tiny cripple (Dustin Hoffman) as they wander about New York, working together to stay alive in an increasingly confusing world. Hoffman plays the brains and Voight plays the muscle. Separate, the two characters are nothing. Together, perhaps, they can become a success.
7.9/10 - The film is peppered with flashback sequences which don't quite work, but the performances are excellent and Voight and Hoffman are riveting to watch.
Worth only one viewing.
Not unlike a lot of other screen classics but more than many of them,
"Midnight Cowboy" is a movie I enjoy thinking about more than I do
Like say Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking'" comes on the radio, and I get a picture in my head of that clueless Stetson-wearing greenhorn Joe Buck (Jon Voight) chewing gum as he walks through a sea of New Yorkers, blissfully ignorant of all that lies ahead. It's a great image and a great tune, reminding me of when I was young and the world was a less ornery if just as confusing place. Yet the song exists in the movie only as a kind of fleeting counterpoint to life's meaningless brutality.
The crux of "Midnight Cowboy" involves Buck's desperate friendship with tenement bum Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who tries to help Buck find work as a gigolo on the fly. Buck dreams of making it in the Big Apple, while Rizzo dreams of escaping to Florida, home of life's twin necessities, "sunshine and coconut milk". In "Midnight Cowboy", dreams exist only to break your heart.
Voight is great in his debut starring role, and "Midnight Cowboy" is always interesting if hardly inspiring. Manhattan itself becomes a leading character in the way it is shot by DP Adam Holender. Take the moment Buck arrives at his hotel, and looks out at a busy street where from one side a marquee advertises "The Sound Of Music" and on the other a billboard markets cheap whisky.
It's an ugly place filled with ugly people. Hoffman wears a pair of scuzzy dentures as Rizzo, and scrunches his famous nose up so much you understand where the nickname came from. Joe's first gigolo encounter, with shrill, aging Cass (Sylvia Miles), played for laughs as she plays him for money, sets the tone of sordid misery picked up by so many other characters. It's not that the characters here live so miserably that's depressing, but that they deserve to.
Occasionally director John Schlesinger throws in some odd fantasia, Joe remembering some awful rape or imagining himself chasing Ratso around the subways, which made "Midnight Cowboy" even more happening a film in 1969 and rather more dated now. A sequence involving a wild drug party at Andy Warhol's famous Factory seems to exist mostly for self-conscious hipness. More obscure and fascinating are the many scenes where Joe encounters homosexuals, each so pathetic and self-loathing they would excite gay protests if they appeared on screen today.
What makes "Midnight Cowboy" work as much as it does is the undeniable chemistry of Hoffman and Voight; the occasional arresting image (a distant figure waving from a landscape, a dog being fitted with underwear); and that great score, not just "Everybody's Talking'" but the rest of the music including the title theme, also a hit in its day. Nilsson even had another song for the soundtrack that he wrote and performed himself, "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City", which sounds so much of a piece with "Talkin'", a song he didn't write, that you almost wish it had gone in, too.
Then again, with a title like that, I sort of doubt it had a chance.
I loved the movie "Midnight Cowboy" from the first time I saw it which was about a half dozen years after it was released. I was too young for an X rated movie when it came out. I have not seen this movie in many years but its visual stimulation has burned in my mind for a decade or more. The movie made both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman both stars in my mind . And stars they were in this film, I never saw a more realistic sorry excuse for a New York rat street bum then Hoffman. You could feel the charisma of his character, you would feel dirty just watching his street wise persona. He was amazing. He played so well opposite Jon Voight. The out of place rural cowboy Joe Buck. He just reeked of out of his atmosphere first time in a big city hick. I have never ever seen Jon Voight in a film where I enjoyed his role as much as I did in this movie. The seedy sets of the streets of New York were so realistic just as I described with Hoffman they would make you feel like trying to brush off the filth that came off the screen. In the winter cold the characters affected you so much that you would actually button your coat as if you were there on the screen freezing with them. The climatic ending scenes were so well acted if Hoffman never made another film, I would say he was still one of the best actors ever in the business. Beautifully filmed, acted, directed and edited, absolutely beautiful. This is definitely one of the best movies of that decade and really one of the best movies I have ever seen. Heart breaking at times, often not the easiest movie to see, but one of the best movies ever made.
A young dishwasher from Texas, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) decides to climb
the social ladder in New York where he thinks that thanks to his charm
and his handsome appearance, he'll have no trouble seducing rich women.
Alas! He comes up against disappointments and disillusions. As he
becomes penniless, he's bent on prostituting himself to survive until
he makes the acquaintance of a small Italian immigrant Ritso Razzo
(Dustin Hoffman) who struggles to live through cons and tricks and
lives in a hovel. A solid friendship brings the two men closer and
Razzo confides to his new found friend his desire to leave for Florida
and its warm climate. Times become distressing with the arrival of
winter. Joe would have recourse to theft to pay the trip to the
When "Midnight Cowboy" appeared on the American screens, it received a X certificate and was the first American film to pocket an Oscar with this certificate! It's easy to see what seduced the members of the jury to bestow this gem from John Schlesinger with actually three golden statuettes but today this X certificate seems quite pointless. There are strong sexual sequences but crowds have seen worse since.
Anyway, "Midnight Cowboy" is along with "Marathon Man" (1976) Schlesinger's peak. The friendship he showed between this mismatched pair who are his two main characters is shot with reserve and sensibility. Joe Buck a good-looking, naive young man with a child's face who will gradually lose his innocence through his degeneration in the murky darkness of New York. Who else but Jon Voight could perform this pure character who wasn't prepared at all for a cruel world? A cruel world depicted in a hard-hitting way by the filmmaker. Ritso Razzo a tuberculous Italian immigrant who craves to get out of this hell to take refuge in Florida. Schlesinger's camera work is inventive to say the least and almost always adequate with the vibe one sequence could convey. With shrewd cinematographic methods he unveils us some parts of his two characters' persona like Joe's troubled childhood or Razzo's wild dreams in Florida. Their relationship is a sunbeam in a cloudy even ominous sky. Human dignity is preserved as much as possible.
What else to add? It's indispensable to have seen this film for your own cinematographic culture. But for Schlesinger, the slump will occur with his subsequent film, the mediocre "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971).
I watched this film again yesterday. I saw it several years ago and was
totally taken in by it. Despite the depression that I feel after
watching it, I decided to see it again because of a comment made by an
acquaintance of mine. He saw the film for the first time several weeks
ago. His comment to me was "I don't get it. Why didn't they just get
jobs?" I was flabbergasted by this comment. He obviously didn't get the
whole point of the film. The characters couldn't get regular jobs
because it would destroy their dreams, even though the inhumanity of
the city was doing that anyway.
The plot is that Joe Buck (Voigt), a young man from Texas, decides to move to New York to become a male gigolo for the rich widows and wives in Manhattan. Joe meets a number of set backs and is swindled by crippled conman Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman). Eventually when Joe is on the down and out, he and Ratso form an unlikely partnership to try and make money so they can get to Florida.
The movie takes on themes of friendship, desperation, rejection, and ultimately loneliness. It has the distinction of being the only movie rated X to ever win the Best Picture Award at the Academy Awards. The film was fantastic and never seemed to loose sight of its portrayal of the death of dreams for two struggling men.
Truly one of the finest American films of its era. Although somewhat dated it is still powerful and heartbreaking. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are simply magnetic in their honest and brave performances. A film so raw and emotionally shattering would probably not be made today unless diluted by Political Correctness. A Must See! I have seen it recently again after not having seen it for quite some time. It has been a favorite of mine for many years. I am also a great admirer of Sylvia Miles's work in this film,she gives a short but distinct performance. A well deserved winner of a Best Picture Oscar and John Schlesinger's crowning career achievement. Classic Harry Nillson song Everybody's Talking' has surprisingly not been nominated for an Academy Award.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As blistering an attack on America as you're likely to see in a major motion picture, MIDNIGHT COWBOY is also one of the greatest movies ever made. Riveting from beginning to end, director John Schlesinger and screenwriter Waldo Salt create a bleak vision of life as two losers team up and become...two losers. Jon Voight as Joe Buck has never given a better performance and Dustin Hoffman as his "pimp" Ratso Rizzo is mind-blowing, particularly since this was his followup to THE GRADUATE. A grim, almost hypnotic movie. The cameos by Bob Balaban, John McGiver, and especially Sylvia Miles are priceless. Although this won the best picture Oscar, both Hoffman and Voight lost out to all-American symbol John Wayne!
Midnight Cowboy for me is the greatest movie I've ever seen. I can
watch this movie time and time again and I never get bored with it.
Dustin Hoffman plays a great role as Ratso a small time con man who comes across a Texan by the name of Joe Buck played by Jon Voight. Ratso rips Joe off only for Joe to later catch up with him. Instead of beating his head in he ends up becoming his friend and soon tries to help Ratso reach his dream of living in Florida.
Midnight cowboy is a story of love between two great friends. This movie gives you a real insight into the poorer side of life.
This movie is a must see.
Trust me on this one!
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