“The only one thing I ever been good for is lovin’.”
A small-town Texan (Jon Voight) heads to New York City in hopes of making a good living as a gigolo for wealthy women. Instead, he finds himself hustling to survive, and relying on the friendship of a down-and-out con-artist (Dustin Hoffman) who dreams of moving to Florida.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while this infamous cult movie — the first “X-Rated” film to win a Best Picture Oscar — “has humor and moments of warmth”, it nonetheless possesses a “cruel edge” which he believes is generated by the “America-hating director, John Schlesinger, who seems to enjoy victimizing [the two male leads] in the name of America”. From what I’ve read, Schlesinger’s relationship with America was actually much more nuanced than Peary indicates (he grew to love Los Angeles), and I can’t quite agree with Peary that the film’s “cruel edge” has anything to do with how its director chooses to “treat” the characters. Peary further complains that “scriptwriter Waldo Salt doesn’t… include any scenes in which the men open up to each other and discuss their deepest feelings or their past”, yet he praises both Voight and Hoffman (who he names Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars) for giving “excellent, sympathetic portrayals” which allow us to “understand both the reasons for and the depth of their friendship”.
In the remainder of his review, Peary labels Schlesinger’s use of flashbacks as a “technical imposition” which merely exhibits “his desire to use film to play with time,” given that we “never find out” how a gang-rape endured by Voight and his girlfriend (Jennifer Salt) “affected him”. I disagree: while it might be nice to understand a bit more about these and other earlier scenes from Voight’s life, we clearly understand that he comes from a troubled background, which is enough to help us sympathize with his desire for a better life in NYC. Similarly, we don’t find out much about Ratso’s background, or even learn exactly what illness causes him to cough so persistently — yet what’s most important here is that he and Voight find each other and develop a most unusual companionship in the midst of abject poverty. Their (mis)adventures together, while certainly often depressing, always ring true, and are (ironically) tinged with an air of subtle optimism given the obvious loyalty they’ve developed towards one another; indeed, despite a decidedly heartbreaking ending, I can think of a hundred different ways the storyline for Midnight Cowboy could have been even “crueler” than it is.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jon Voight as Joe Buck
- Dustin Hoffman as “Ratso”
- Sylvia Miles as Cass
- Adam Holender’s cinematography
- Excellent use of Harry Nilsson’s instantly memorable rendition of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”
Yes, as an historically relevant cultural icon of late ’60 cinema.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)