Top 100 Movie Review: No. 071 – Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Ranked 071 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched April 2019

Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo), Jon Voight (Joe Buck), Sylvia Miles (Cass), John McGiver (Mr. O’Daniel), Brenda Vaccaro (Shirley)
Director: John Schlesinger
My rating: 7.5 / 10

The movie starts wth Texan dishwasher Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who convinced of his irresistible appeal to women, decided to quit his job and head for New York City, thinking he’ll make a fortune as a gigolo. During this bus trip we get some flashbacks into Joe’s past that come up again throughout the movie including traumatic experience with a former girlfriend and a gang assault on them.

New York turns out to be much harder for the naive Joe then he imagined. After checking into a seedy Manhattan hotel, Joe takes to the streets and eventually picks up Cass (Sylvia Miles), a rich, middle-aged blonde, but Joe not only doesn’t get paid he ends up giving taxi money to Cass as she starts crying about Joe implying she needed to pay for sex.

Later, at a cheap Broadway bar, Joe meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a crippled, petty thief and con artist who volunteers to work as his pimp and manager. Ratso however hustles Joe for introduction money setting him up with a bizarre encounter with a religious fanatic.

However the two eventually form a rough alliance, and together they kick-start Joe’s hustling career. Ratso even shares with Joe his fantasy of someday living a life of luxury in Miami Beach.

Joe’s encounters continue to be failures however including a tough homosexual experience that Joe clearing doesn’t enjoy with a timid male student only to discover that the boy cannot pay. Eventually things pick up a little when Joe meets a chic swinger at a weird far out underground party in Greenwich Village, and finally gets paid for spending a wild night with her.

However just as Joe has made a contact to get into his gigolo career Ratso’s health begins to deteriorate. Determined to get the bus fare to take his friend to his dream location in Florida, Joe brutally beats up an aging homosexual in a hotel room and steals his money (it’s unclear if Joe killed this man). Ratso manages to get onto the bus, but he dies as they reach Miami just after Joe as disposed of his cowboy outfit.

What’s to Like
The New York underbelly, the weird (but good) Warhol-type psychedelic party, the Dustin Hoffman improvised taxi scene “I’m walking here” after a real life taxi almost runs him down as they are shooting a scene is classic New York attitude.

What’s not to Like
The undertones against homosexuals throughout the movie, gay characters are the lowest people in the movie and the lowest acts that Joe participates in which his last encounter leading him to beat up a middle age gay man for money.

“I’m no cowboy but I’m a real stud,” Joe keeps informing us. His grandmother taught him that being a cowboy is great and it’s a role he wants to play, the wild man living on his skills (in this case love making).

Sex is obviously a major point in a movie about a hustler (gigolo) but despite Joe seeing this as something great it’s actually presented as very depressing acts, not as a way of connecting or positive mutual act, and many times the sex is associated with violence, including a flashback to Joe’s girlfriend and him being raped in Texas, and Joe attacking and maybe killing a gay man.

Joe loses himself and his naive beliefs after many many lessons on how harsh life can be and how selfish people can be. Disposing of his cowboy outfit near the end of the movie can be seen as the point when Joe finally understands the world better but is he a better person for this or is he an even worse human being? I lean towards worse despite Joe attempting to help Ratso escape to warm Florida as I can’t forgive the attack on a hapless and deseparate middle aged gay male to fund this adventure.

It’s definitely a movie you won’t quickly forget. The gritty nature of life does feel most real life for the era of the movie but it couldn’t help but make me feel a little sad, the human eat human nature of survive of self above others. Still it’s a very memorable movie and deserves it’s acclaim especially the lead actors who could have easily won an academy award.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Director (John Schlesinger) – winner
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Waldo Salt) – winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Dustin Hoffman) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jon Voight) – nominee
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Sylvia Miles) – nominee
  • Best Film Editing (Hugh A. Robertson) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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