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USA 1969
Directed by
John Schlesinger
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Midnight Cowboy

English-born director John Schlesinger’s first American film, an adaptation of Leo Herlihy's novel of the same name deservedly won Best Picture, Screenplay (by Waldo Salt) and Director Oscars. An authentic-feeling evocation of contemporary New York, where small town dreams turn sour it tells the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young would-be stud who arrives in the Big Apple to make his fortune doing the only thing at which he’s any good: “lovin”. Naïve in the extreme he falls into the grifting "meathooks" of Enrico Rizzo aka Ratso (Dustin Hoffman), one of the many casualties of american capitalism.

Hoffman, in his greatest screen characterization, indeed one of the greatest of modern screen history,is marvellous as the homeless cripple who dreams of escaping his sorry lot for the playgrounds of sunny Florida whilst Voight matches him blow-for-blow as a good-natured but dumb hick in what is a poignant story of loneliness healed and friendship found under adversity, or in other words, one of the best buddy movies ever made.

Whilst these two performances are outstanding (both actors were nominated for the Best Male Performance Oscar which, unfairly and ironically, went to John Wayne for True Grit) Schlesinger with his outsider awareness of the crumbling allure and tawdriness of the American Dream, making this also a telling portrait of the times (including one of the most effective portraits of the Warholesque NYC party scene ever put on film). There is only one scene that seems a tad incongruous and that is when Joe rams a telephone receiver into the mouth of a homosexual who picks him up on Times Square.  That aside, Midnight Cowboy is one of the best films of a peak period in American film-making.

FYI: No doubt Martin Scorsese studied Schlesinger's film in preparation for Taxi Driver (1976), another thematically-related classic of the era.




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