I love movies like 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. They are the kind of movies that are embedded in American culture. They tell a story about the reality of everyday people and the themes explored are ones that people can relate to. I love all different kind of stories, but I find these stories featuring real-life themes to be more meaningful. This is a classic example of an American film-a film with a gritty tone involving the everyday life of ordinary people. The Hollywood studio system began to change in the late 1960’s and instead of focusing on big-budget epics, they narrowed their focus down to American dramas similar in style to this film. The 1970’s is very popular regarding these kind of films, so stay tuned for future reviews to understand my point.
The main theme of the movie is love. But it’s not just any kind of love. The movie has overtones of homosexuality, which caused lots of controversy when released. It was unheard of that a movie would feature such things in a movie, but as Bob Dylan likes to sing, “times are a-changing.” The love interests are between our two main characters, a Texas cowboy named Joe Buck and a New York City outcast named Ratso. At first, they only use each other for business interests. But as the movie progress, a friendship evolves between them. A very close friendship that symbolizes something deeper than that. The movie does not explicitly say the men were gay (although there are some scenes that may say otherwise), but it grows clearer and clearer there is some kind of romantic attraction between the two men. Here is some interesting trivia. When it came out, it received an X-rating. This is the only motion picture to have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars with an X-rating. People felt like the film would give their children very bad influences, which I believe was a bunch of crap. However in 1972, the film was changed to an R-rating where it currently stands today.
This film is essentially a love story set in the good ol’ Big Apple. Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a hustler who is from Texas. He decides to move to New York City to chase his big dream involving lots of cash and women. But very quickly he learns the city in the east is a much different animal compared to his small Texas hometown. He makes some money as a hustler, but he doesn’t have very many opportunities. Then he meets a shady man named Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) who deals with the underbelly of New York. They forge a partnership as Ratso decides to show Joe Buck how to make it rich. As the adventures begin to roll on, they might have feelings for each other that they could have never expected to have.
These kind of films rely on acting, and it’s an understatement to say Hoffman and Voight crushed it with their roles. Hoffman was a rising star with his turn in 1967’s The Graduate, but he shows here that film was no fluke. Hoffman’s character was not a guy I’d generally root for, but Hoffman gave his character so much sympathy. He was a flawed man who needed a friend and more importantly, needed love. I find it ironic how the character’s name was Ratso. Ratso did somewhat resemble a human-sized rat in the movie, which I guess is a symbol for the criminal underbelly of New York City. Jon Voight crushes it in one of his first major roles. The scenes when he first arrives in New York are fabulous and pretty funny. His cowboy hat doesn’t look right amongst the clad of people in their business suits and I love how he tried to hustle women in public to no avail. New York is a different beast, my friend. The chemistry between the two are spot-on. From their mutual thoughts on living in Florida to their hustling deals, the chemistry here is something special.
The film relies upon the dynamite performances of Hoffman and Voight to succeed, but there is the tidy direction of John Schlesinger who helped changed the face of cinema with his controversial art. There is the strong screenplay Waldo Scott, which depicts the underbelly of American life in a way that it makes it difficult to watch. I only wished he left out that stupid psychedelic party scene of his screenplay. It really did not fit with the tone of the movie and it was cringing to watch, although this is where we can see love come into play for the two characters. This era also introduced using songs in addition to the score. The Graduate began that trend, and the film makes good example from that trend. The song, “Everybody’s Talkin’ to Me” is a wonderful song with strong lyrics that add to the story.
Midnight Cowboy is an American film that is known as a love story between bros, but it is deeper than that. It’s a story about valued friendship. The paths are very different at the end, compared to where they were in the beginning. The ending comes across as tragic, but in a way it is also a very sweet ending. I had misty eyes, but I also had a nice smile on my face. Honestly, there shouldn’t have been any controversy with the film. If this was released today, people wouldn’t bat an eye at the subject matter. Luckily, the majority of the people loved this film upon release and it became a heavily influential film. Just see 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, and you’ll see some similar themes. I really enjoyed watching the movie. I was curious at why the film was deemed controversial, but in the end it was just another powerful love story.
My Grade: A