Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Midnight Cowboy"

I hesitate to admit this but Saturday was the first time I'd ever seen this entire film.  "Midnight Cowboy" was released in 1969 when I was 12 years old so it's not surprising I had missed it when it first came out.  Funny side story: "Easy Rider" came out the same year and I did see that film - with my parents and my grandmother.  My mother took us out to the movies for a nice family outing and ended up sitting in between her 12 year old daughter and her 69 year old mother-in-law, both of whom where leaning over to her and whispering, "What are they doing??"  Obviously, my mother had no idea what the film was about. I think she just wanted to see Jack Nicholson.  

"Midnight Cowboy" starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo caused quite a stir when it opened in 1969 by being rated "X."  It was based on the book of the same name written by James Leo Herlihy and directed by John Schlesinger ("Day of the Locust" "Marathon Man".)  It went on to the become the only "X" rated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture and then, amazingly, it won, beating out "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Anne of a Thousand Days."   The story is about Joe Buck, a good looking but naive Texas boy who is looking to make a buck in New York City by becoming a hustler.  After trying and failing and losing more money than he earns, he meets Ratso Rizzo who promises to help him.  Together they also have failure after failure and eventually end up nearly freezing and starving to death in Ratso's make-shift apartment.  Ratso becomes ill and Joe does everything he can to scrounge for money.  The film ends with Joe using what money they have and taking Ratso to Florida, which has always been his dream.  The friendship that forms between these two is one of convenience at first but it develops into a true partnership where neither man can imagine being without the other.  Jon Voight plays Joe Buck as a simple cowboy who just wants to forget his life in Texas (there are very unpleasant flashbacks all through the film involving a girlfriend and a brutal attack by a gang.)  Despite what seems to be a horrific episode in his life, he has managed to maintain his humanity and is just looking to survive however he can.  Ratso is a man who was born with a distinct disadvantage due to a physical deformity and is also trying to survive.  Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Ratso reminded me in some ways of a small dog who thinks he's tougher than he is.  This serves him well and he ends up protecting Joe more than Joe protects him.  Dustin Hoffman is one of those rare actors who can take a character and become that character with his whole being and Ratso will start out making you cringe and end up making you cry.

This is a film about two damaged people whom we shouldn't care about but we do because of the performances by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.  Their characters form an alliance and a friendship that will break your heart.  Plus the ending is a tour de force - beautifully shot with such tender acting between the two men.  The images will linger in your mind long after the film is over.  

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