In an Oscar nominated lead role Jon Voight plays Joe Buck, a man who was abandoned by his Mother, raised but abused by his Grandmother, raped by a gang thanks to his promiscuous girlfriend and stuck in a small Texan town washing dishes for a living. It’s little wonder he wants to escape to the Big Apple, where he dreams of earning a living as a cowboy gigolo pleasuring the ladies who lunch of New York’s Park Avenue.
After quitting his job and using his pay packet for a bus ticket and a few nights in a New York hotel, Buck takes to the streets looking for women. He is however woefully under-prepared for the harsh realities of big city life where women see his cowboy stud image as a bit of a joke. Unaware, his enthusiasm carries him into his first encounter which unfortunately sees him being the one to hand money over rather than earning it himself.[drop]With Buck’s dream turning sour he becomes convinced that all he needs to make a success of his chosen career path is management. It’s then that he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman who was also Oscar nominated for his role. Sadly for Buck, Ratso’s advice cons him out of his remaining money and he’s then locked out of his hotel room losing all his belongings in the process, left penniless to roam the streets.
He’s later reunited with Ratso who turns out to be a penniless conman disabled by Polio and a tuberculoid cough, rather than the ‘managment’ that Buck desires. To avoid taking a beating Ratso offers Buck a place to stay, squatting in a condemned tenement building. The pair form an unlikely but deep friendship helping each other to steal food & pickpocket just to get by. The pair dream of a better life in Florida once they’ve hit it big, and when Buck finally gets a genuine client and it looks like his career as a gigolo is going to take off, Ratso’s illness takes a turn for the worse leaving Buck frustrated with a difficult life-changing choice.
As time progresses the term ‘classic’ seems to be bandied around with ever higher frequency, but Midnight Cowboy is a classic by even the strictest definition. Director John Schlesinger brilliantly brings to life the seedy underbelly of a big city and the low-life characters that live a depraved life scraping the bottom of existence in stark contrast to the drug fuelled Warhol-esque parties.[videoyoutube]Buck’s naive enthusiasm and Ratso’s opportunism hampered by a degenerative illness are brilliantly portrayed by Voight and Hoffman, and the friendship is totally believable despite being unlikely, becoming deeper and more meaningful as the film progresses.
Despite featuring prostitution, drugs, homosexuality, desperation, shattered dreams and a bleak depraved existence, Midnight Cowboy is ultimately about human character and the hope that a friendship can provide. Rarely does a screenplay, directing, acting and the musical score combine so well to become something so thoughtful, powerful and simply brilliant as Schlesinger, Voight and Hoffman do to create a true classic.
Midnight Cowboy is available on Netflix on your device of choice so those of you currently taking advantage of an introductory free month on your consoles can see a legendary film for free. Although it’s a tough watch at times it’s a film that comes with the highest recommendation and deserves to be seen.