Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes, Ruth White, Jennifer Salt
Written by: Waldo Salt, based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy
Directed by: John Schlesinger
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 113
Date: 05/25/1969

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

True Stud

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1969, times were changing and movies were changing too. Midnight Cowboy was an unabashedly adult movie with adult themes and experimental touches, and it took Englishman John Schlesinger (Billy Liar) to bring this approach to an otherwise gritty New York story.

A Texas dishwasher who dresses in cowboy garb, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), packs up and heads to New York to become a hustler, selling his sexual services to rich women. Unfortunately the unsophisticated Joe fails his first few attempts. He meets a small-time con man "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) who at first tries to fleece Joe but ends up taking him in to his room in a condemned building. Ratso and Joe go to a crazy party and Joe takes drugs and hallucinates. In flashbacks, the uncomfortable, disturbing events of Joe's life are revealed. Ratso's health deteriorates and Joe tries to help him fulfill his dream of moving to Florida.

Schlesinger turns in a film of constant visual conflict, centered on the tall, blonde, handsome Joe and the short, dark, scraggy, greasy Ratso. Joe's sunny optimism about the life that awaits him, and what he actually gets, are at odds. Realism also crosses sharply with the psychedelic party scene.

Dingy and doomed, but nonetheless full of life, the movie was one of the year's top hits and won three Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (Waldo Salt). Actors Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, and Sylvia Miles were all nominated. Harry Nilsson's warm, sad theme song "Everybody's Talkin'" was also a hit, and Hoffman's line, "I'm walkin' here!" became one of the all-time classic movie quotes.

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