Midnight Cowboy broke all the rules when it was released in 1969. After a decade dominated by glossy, Technicolor, feel-good musicals, John Schlesinger’s x-rated exposé of shattered dreams amongst the grime and desperation on New York’s mean streets made the entire industry sit up and take notice.
It’s not just the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for best picture, it paved the way for Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen to tell their New York stories (Taxi Driver, The Godfather I & II, Manhattan). Nearly 40 years on, it is every bit as powerful and authentic as the day it was released.
John Voight plays Joe Buck, a naïve Texas dishwasher who decides to hop a bus to New York City where he is sure he’ll soon be living the high life as a high-paid gigolo. He arrives in his buckskin jacket and spit-shined cowboy boots and starts following rich women around.
He figures he’s struck gold when Cass (Sylvia Miles) takes him home, but after he’s delivered the goods, she hustles him out of $20. Then he runs into Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a petty thief with a bum leg who promises to get him some proper management, hustling him out of another 20 and delivering him to a gay born-again preacher – but not before uttering the immortal words, “Hey! I’m walkin’ heah!”
Soon Joe is broke, locked out of his dingy hotel room and living on the street, prowling 42nd St after dark like all the other cowboys, but too soft-hearted to make the johns pay. (Check out the young Bob Balaban.)
When he runs into Ratso again, Joe is desperate to get his money back, but ends up going home with him, to his rat-infested, condemned tenement, where the two form a friendship and struggle to survive – both living on dreams of a better life.
The two-disc collectors’ edition includes two recently made featurettes with surviving cast and crew, reflecting on making the film and its impact and another looking at the late John Schlesinger’s life – easily as fascinating as any of his movies. Also included is a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer and an insightful commentary by producer Jerome Hellman.