When I first saw Midnight Cowboy in 1969 it was a very controversial film. First of all, it was the first mainstream movie given an X rating under the new MPAA letter rating system. The movie went on to become the only X rated film ever to win an Oscar (best picture, best director, best screenplay with nominations for Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight and Sylvia Miles). The praise was and remains, well deserved. Times have changed and the same movie is now rated R but the impact remains as powerful today as it did over thirty years ago. The story is about a young man from a small Texas town, Joe Buck (Jon Voight). He is desperate to get out of this town, leave his menial job washing dishes and go to New York City where he hopes to become rich and famous as a male prostitute. Joe Buck is full of optimism as he says his good-byes, boards the interstate bus and travels towards his dream. We see in several flashbacks the pain that lies just below the surface if Joe. Brought up by a floozy of a grandmother he gets into trouble at a early age and does a tour in the Army. Once in New York he is too polite and kind hearted to be a hustler. In fact, his first time doing what he does best the customer (Sylvia Miles) forgot her wallet and gets Joe to pay $20 for her cab fare. The rag-tag hero begins his rapid road downhill losing just about everything he owns. Along the way he meets a crippled, homeless man, (Not trying to be politically incorrect here, just using the vernacular of the time) Enrico Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The two at first form a strnage but necessary alliance, just to eke out a bare existence. Soon, the open up to each other and a friendship is born. What this story has that sets it apart form most others and that makes it number 36 on the American Film Institutes top 100 films is heart. There is a depth to the portrayal of the characters that makes you care about people that if you saw in the street you either would ignore them or cross the street to avoid them.
This film was the first big movie of Dustin Hoffmans to follow his breakout hit The Graduate. Unlike the youthful anxiety of Benjamin, Ratso is a man that has had is chance at life and failed. Still, he hopes for a better life, for a dream to be fulfilled if only his health holds out long enough for him to make it to Miami, his Promised Land. It was in this film that Hoffman really grew up as an actor. The incredible performances his career has provided took root with the Graduate but really blossomed here. Jon Voight had some minor films before this but Midnight Cowboy helped to make him the star that is deserving of one with his talent.
The director, John Schlesinger is one of the true giants of the film industry. His resume includes such classics as Marathon Man, Darling, Far from the Madding Crowd and Billy Liar. Every single scene in this film is framed like a piece of fine art. The landscapes, the background music and the down-home extras all add to a feeling of not watching a movie as much as you feel like you are in the experience. Schlesinger is a genius at taking the mundane and making it come alive. From the streets of a small town to the bustle of New York, the contrasts are striking in this film. This is truly a guide to how to direct a film.
While the disc does not contain any extras the value here is in the performances. Sure I would have enjoyed a commentary, especially with such an important movie as this one but the story and talents carry this disc. The video transfer was made from an older copy of the film. It did have several ticks and pops. The sound was remastered from the original stereo to Dolby 5.1. While the surround speakers are not fully employed, the sub woofer and center speakers are well mixed. This is a keeper for all serious film collectors.