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  Midnight Cowboy Best FriendsBuy this film here.
Year: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes, Ruth White, Jennifer Salt, Gilman Rankin, Georgann Johnson, Jonathan Kramer, Paul Benjamin, Bob Balaban, Viva, Gastone Rossilli, Ultra Violet, Gary Owens
Genre: Drama
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Where's Joe Buck (Jon Voight)? He's going to work, but he's not hanging around in Texas because he wants his pay and then he's leaving, for the big city out East if you must know. He gets his money, takes his suitcase, and hops on the bus to New York, dreaming of the time he is going to have there where he will surely make his fortune as a self-proclaimed stud, just knowing the rich women there will be lining up to be bedded by him - and provide financial thanks into the bargain. Yet dreams don't always come true...

Although Midnight Cowboy was a major success in its day, winning an Oscar for Best Picture, the only X-rated picture to do so (it would now be rated R, but it's an achievement of sorts), critical reaction has always been somewhat suspicious. Those who try to pin down what they don't like about the movie point to its glum view of America, its flashy style, the plot's apparent hatred of women, or simply the sentimentality that its course of events brings about, blatantly aiming for the audience's tear ducts by the end. Yet while director John Schlesinger and writer Waldo Salt were manipulative, they were not truly heartless.

If anything, the tone was not so much scabrous, even satirical, but overwhelmingly disappointed. We follow the crushing of one naive man's hopes, after all, and the film has great sympathy for what in other hands could have been portrayed as an idiot who deserved all he got for his unworldly behaviour. Once Joe reaches New York City he rents a hotel room and starts wandering the streets, trying out his absurdly simple pick up line and believing that a wealthy lady will take him back to her place sooner or later. This actually does happen, but the woman (Sylvia Miles) is so insulted that she should pay that Joe leaves empty handed.

More than that, he pays her twenty dollars to stop her crying, yet it's not only the women who are out to use this "cowboy" as the men are too - chief among those being Rico "Ratso" Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman with his growing to be customary method acting to inhabit the role to his best ability. He didn't have as much screen time as Voight, who was excellent in the part which made him a star, but he made his scenes count as the seedy counterpart to Joe who fools him into handing over cash for what he claims will be the position he always wanted, servicing the rich ladies of the Big Apple, but ends up with a Jesus freak instead.

As hard as Hoffman worked to be repellent, Schlesinger worked harder to make us eventually feel sympathy, and that was where Midnight Cowboy's quality shone through the grime. After Joe has tracked Ratso down, they come to an understanding partly because Joe is such a nice guy that he cannot stay mad at him (we see in flashback he has been exploited far too badly in his past, which he has attempted to block out), and partly because the cowboy has nowhere else to stay but with his new acquaintance, who perceives potential in him. This being the type of movie which cannot see the ambition in its characters as anything but doomed, it's notable that this pair of buddies, two against the world as it turns out, really deserve a break in our minds, even if we can see their less admirable aspects - especially in Ratso - so clearly. That was this film's triumph, winning you over to the kind of people most would avoid in the street, and finding genuine poignancy in their dejection. Even the enduring John Barry-led musical selection does so.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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