Winning Best Picture in no way guarantees the quality of a film, but in the case of Midnight Cowboy it seems the Academy got this one right. The movie, which received the honor in 1969, stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight; it begins with the character Joe Buck, played by Voight, a Texas dishwasher, who wears a flamboyant Cowboy costume, deciding to leave the Lone Star State for New York City to seek his fortune. Not long after Buck reaches his destination, he encounters Rico Rizzo a clever, but crippled Italian hustler played by Dustin Hoffman who has acquired, due to his habit of petty theft, the derogatory nickname “Ratso.” The meeting serves to spark an enduring relationship, full of high and low points, as both men try to survive the poverty that befalls them in the Big Apple’s Rat-Race.
In revealing the story of Rizzo and Buck, the Director, John Schlesinger, captures a vivid picture of the two parallel worlds that existed in the New York of the late 1960’s: one of opulent Penthouses and Luxury Hotels on Fifth Avenue and the other of its raw underbelly located on Forty-Second Street- the city’s outlandish skid row full of gays, transvestites and other so called “deviants”. Buck must negotiate both of these environments as he tries to make his way as a male prostitute (he prefers women, but must also offer his services to men out of desperation for money) under Rizzo’s guidance. Due to Buck’s, occupation, “Cowboy” has a number of graphic sex scenes, but this should not cause the viewer to dismiss it as vulgar. Buck’s sexual escapades do not disrupt the film’s rhythm, but, instead, aid in its nuanced exploration of ideas relating to the significance of physical identity, interplay of mainstream and countercultures, coercive impact of advertising, bane of American individualism in trying to confront poverty, and much more. Given its intellectual maturity, this film will be a good renting choice for movie-goers wishing to escape the shallow barage of blockbusters Hollywood has in store for the coming summer.
If you enjoy Dustin Hoffman make sure to see The Graduate (everyone really loves the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack that accompanies this one) and Tootsie.