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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Retro Review: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $44 million

Plot: A native hustler travels from Texas to New York to seek personal fortune, but in the process, finds himself a new friend 

'In The Midnight Hour'

Noted as the first X-rated film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Midnight Cowboy's understated worth as a drama is supplemented by the groundbreaking performances given by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, as the unlikely duo who hustle their way in New York to obtain financial success, only to succumb to personal tragedy in the end for one half of the pairing. It is a film that defies belief at times and way before Patty Jenkins Monster of 2003 attempted to delve into the life of female prostitution, 1969's Midnight Cowboy was viewed as being more courageous and daring through its male equivalent. 

Even though Hoffman is given top billing, it is Jon Voight who opens the film as Joe: a young cowboy hat wearing Texan, who decides to leave his state and turn his attentions to New York where he believes he will score with women, fall in love. He chooses to become a male escort and woo rich New York women. 

A platonic love story of two damaged souls: Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo was ravaged by Polio as a child, whilst Jon Voight's Joe Buck had bad, as well as sad experiences with various women that left him emotionally damaged, as these events replay in his head over and over. Joe left the 'dirty' South for the hustle and bustle city life of New York of the East Side for sexual pastures new. Tall, handsome, he travelled to the other side to make a living as a prostitute. What he wasn't expecting, however, was how women he'd fall over would chew him up and spit him out, without giving him a chance. He even has an oral sex encounter with a gay man in a cinema. Broke and without a roof over his head, he turns his attention to Ratso Rizzo - a homophobe and businessman, who he becomes best buds with. But just as Joe had finally turned the corner, Razzo's hopes don't look good - in fact, they have gotten worse, with illness taking a toll on his health.

Midnight Cowboy was quite a departure for Dustin Hoffman; coming off the back of The Graduate, thief Razzo was a world away from the naive -yet nice guy, Benjamin Braddock. Disheveled looking, cigarette-smoking and with a cagey swagger, Razzo has been through to hell and back. & in turning to Joe, he was reliant and dependent on him earning a living & doing whatever it takes to get money. Hoffman was an absolute revelation throughout: I  have never seen a performance such as that in many of his other films & in Razzo, he was quite a character. The film also features Hoffman uttering the line ''I'm walking here'', which the AFI named it as the 27th greatest movie line of all-time. Jon Voight was entertaining and turned on the charm, but without Dustin Hoffman and as his character Razzo and the manner of the performance he gave onscreen, Midnight Cowboy will be half the film that it is. He had the cagey swagger, he nailed the ''new Yawk'' accent to a tee, he was fantastic. This odd couple amorality tale is more of a buddy picture that sees two polar opposites trying to find a common ground in their friendship, in the midst of hope, which is very short-lived and imminent gloom and tragedy.

Grim, gritty, raw in places, although to be fair, by today's standards compared to other X-rated films, this one does feel tame as Midnight Cowboy has very little sexual nudity and nudity in general, as well as less cursing. Sex is occasionally mentioned a few times but it is not heavy or shown and portrayed in a way to be deemed erotic. In fact, it is extremely discreet. 

Final Verdict:

I'm not sure whether Midnight Cowboy lives up to its fame and whilst it is far from being a completely recognizable and instantly memorable Dustin Hoffman picture along with the likes of Tootsie, The Graduate & Kramer Vs Kramer, there is no denying that for me it was definitely watchable, thanks to the leads and more so Hoffman as the vulnerable, tragic Ratso. Well-written with great direction by John Schlesinger, there is a rawness and genuine feeling that this film evokes which is also underpinned by the unlikely friendship of Razzo and Joe, as they each come to the realisation their livelihood comes at an even much heavier price that money and sexual clients could never buy. 

For Dustin Hoffman fans, undoubtedly Midnight Cowboy is a film that needs to be seen and added to their collection.


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