Classic Movie Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

TitleMidnight Cowboy
Release Date: May 25, 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Production Company: Jerome Hellman Productions

Midnight Cowboy is a just plain weird movie.  Jon Voight stars as Joe Buck (no, not the sports announcer people love to hate), a Texan who leaves for New York City believing his natural charm to women will make him a successful prostitute.  There he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a con man with a limp who nevertheless takes Buck in as a roommate in the derelict apartment where he squats.  Buck is a stereotypical Texan and Rizzo is a stereotypical New Yorker, but due to the acting talents of Voight and Hoffman they are stereotypes that are nevertheless fully-realized human beings. Their story as two outsiders suffering increasing poverty while finding friendship in one another is a good one.

Unfortunately, Midnight Cowboy also wants to go all-in on exposing the lurid underbelly of New York.  Again and again, it depicts sex acts in movie theaters, hypocritical Christian fanatics, a countercultural party with some of Andy Warhol’s hangers-on, and lots of gratuitous violence.  These scenes are also stereotypes, a Hollywood image of New York City decrepitude that would be repeated in B-movies for the next three decades.  Maybe they were new on-screen in 1969, but unlike Voight and Hoffman’s performances, there’s nothing particularly interesting about this rubbernecking at bad old New York.

I can see why Midnight Cowboy made the impression it did upon release, and it’s definitely a clinic for acting technique, but it’s many flaws make it a good film for me but not a greatest of all time.

Rating: ***