UK Release Date: 28th May 2018
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: John Schlesinger
Writer: Waldo Salt
Starring: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, John McGiver, Bob Balaban
Synopsis: A Texan man travels to New York with the hope of becoming a cowboy gigolo, only to find himself living with a limping conman.
Nearly 50 years after it first arrived in 1969 and became the first X-rated movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy is getting a new Blu-ray treatment courtesy of the Criterion Collection. It remains a brave and bold film from British director John Schlesinger that conjures a palpable sense of the filth coating the underbelly of New York City. It’s anchored by a pair of terrific central performances that communicate differing viewpoints on the world of the Big Apple.
The film begins with the grinning idealism of Texas man Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who dons a Village People cowboy costume and embarks upon a journey to New York, accompanied by the gorgeous sound of Harry Nilsson’s Grammy-winning performance of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’. He has hopes of making a career as a prostitute, but actually ends up giving money to his first client – a well-off blonde woman (Sylvia Miles). It’s at this point that he meets crippled conman Ratso (Dustin Hoffman), who dupes Joe by claiming that he can get him some clients. As Ratso’s condition worsens, Joe’s career fails to get any more lucrative.
It’s not necessarily the story of Midnight Cowboy that helps the movie to fly, but Schlesinger’s entirely unique directorial style. The most emotional beats of the narrative are accompanied by nightmarish montage sequences aided by bright blue and red colours that accentuate the turmoil of the characters as their psyches crumble and their illusions are shattered. It’s a selection of bold and disorientating visual flourishes that elevate the material in every way.
Voight and Hoffman are both terrific in the leading roles. Voight is the epitome of the classic idealistic cowboy, arriving with wide eyes as he attempts to make his fortune under the bright lights of New York City. His disintegration as the movie progresses, including in a deeply sad encounter with Bob Balaban‘s buttoned-up student, is a parallel to the way Hoffman’s character gradually diminishes physically. He’s a slick shyster when he first appears, but he has become a hunched, decrepit figure by the time the final act kicks into gear.
Midnight Cowboy is a strange movie and one that marks a brave step for all involved, from Schlesinger behind the camera to Hoffman and Voight in front of it. It evokes the seedy streets of New York from every frame and, as a result, it is every inch a movie that should be remembered and enjoyed by those who weren’t old enough to enjoy it the first time around.
As you’d expect from a Criterion release, there’s a solid crop here, including interviews with all of the main players and a number of short documentaries. It’s mostly old material, but there’s something to be said for the sheer quantity of stuff available.
Pop or Poop?
Arriving as the New Hollywood movement was about to kick itself into top gear, Midnight Cowboy is a rich and textured American movie from director John Schlesinger, bringing his British eye to a dark and grubby New York City that chews up and swallows Jon Voight’s protagonist.
It’s in the performances of Voight and Dustin Hoffman that Cowboy finds its heart and, as much as the plot is lacking in substance, the actors shine enough to keep the movie glowing throughout.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Midnight Cowboy is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Criterion Collection.