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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Midnight Cowboy (1969)


  • John Schlesinger, Director

  • Waldo Salt, Writer

  • John Barry, Music

  • Dustin Hoffman as "Ratso" or Enrico Salvatore "Rico" Rizzo

  • Jon Voight as Joe Buck

  • Sylvia Miles as Cass

  • John McGiver as Mr. O'Daniel

  • Brenda Vaccaro as Shirley

  • Barnard Hughes as Towny

  • Ruth White as Sally Buck

  • Jennifer Salt as Annie

  • Bob Balaban as Young Student


  • Midnight Cowboy was released on May 25, 1969.

  • Based on the book of the same name, Midnight Cowboy was made on a rough budget of $3.2 million, but would gross almost $45 million to become the 3rd highest grossing movie of 1969.

  • Critics were almost overwhelmingly positive at the time, and the film would garner seven Academy Award nominations including Best Actor for both of its leads (Hoffman and Voight), Supporting Actress (Sylvia Miles), and Film Editing. The film would go on to win Best Picture, Director (Schlesinger), and Adapted Screenplay (Waldo Salt).

  • 1969 was the first year after the Hays Code had officially ended and after the MPAA ratings were adopted. As such, while Midnight Cowboy was originally given an R rating, it was subsequently changed a few weeks after its released to X due to its sexually distinctive content. X would be the modern equivalent of what NC-17 is now, and thus Midnight Cowboy holds the distinction as being the only Best Picture winner in history with an X or NC-17 rating.

  • The film was also subsequently recognized by the AFI on its list of the 100 greatest American films of all time in 1998 coming in at 36th, and then 43rd on its 2007 update.

  • In 1994, Midnight Cowboy was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.

  • Midnight Cowboy currently holds an 89% among critics on RT, a 79 score on Metacritic, and a 4.1/5 on Letterboxd.

Plot Summary: "Midnight Cowboy" is a poignant exploration of friendship and survival in the gritty urban landscape of New York City. Joe Buck, a naive Texas cowboy with dreams of becoming a rich gigolo, arrives in the city only to find himself struggling to make ends meet. He befriends Ratso Rizzo, a streetwise hustler, forming an unlikely bond as they navigate the harsh realities of their circumstances. Together, they embark on a journey of self-discovery and redemption, facing the harsh truths of their own identities and the unforgiving nature of the city they call home. With powerful performances from Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, "Midnight Cowboy" is a timeless classic that delves deep into the human experience, blending heartbreak and hope in equal measure.

Did You Know:

  • Before Dustin Hoffman auditioned for this film, he knew that the all-American image that he carried after "The Graduate" could easily cost him the job. To prove that he could play Rizzo, he asked the auditioning film executive to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan. He dressed in filthy rags. The executive arrived at the appointed corner and waited, barely noticing the "beggar" not 10 feet away who was accosting people for spare change. The beggar finally walked up to him and revealed his true identity.

  • Dustin Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to ensure his limp would be consistent from shot to shot.

  • Dustin Hoffman put in so much effort portraying one of Ratso's coughing fits that one time he actually ended up vomiting.

  • Director John Schlesinger admitted that there are some things that he would have changed, such as the overlong party sequence. But, for the most part, he felt he succeeded in making a film that was compassionate rather than bleak, one that truly captured "the mixture of desperation and humor which I found all along Forty-Second Street."

  • In one particular scene, Ratso and Joe get into an argument over cowboys. Ratso states that "Cowboys are fags!" Joe's response is "Are you calling John Wayne a fag?" Coincidentally, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight were nominated for the Best Actor Oscars for their roles as Ratso and Joe, respectively. However, they lost out to John Wayne for his role in True Grit (1969).

Best Performance: Jon Voight (Joe)/John Schlesinger (Director)

Best Secondary Performance: John Schlesinger (Director)/Dustin Hoffman (Ratso)

Most Charismatic Award: Everybody's Talkin' (Song by Nilsson)/Jon Voight (Joe)

Best Scene:

  • Going to New York

  • Hookin Up with Cass

  • Ratso Sets Up Joe

  • Young Student in the Theater

  • Party in the Village

  • Towny

  • Going to Florida

Favorite Scene: Going to New York/Hook Up with Cass

Most Indelible Moment: Going to Florida/Ratso Sets Up Joe

In Memorium:

  • Cyril Wecht, 93, American forensic pathologist

  • Mark Damon, 91, American actor (House of Usher, Ringo and His Golden Pistol) and film producer (Monster and Lone Survivor)

  • Susan Backlinie, 77, American actress and stuntwoman (Jaws, Day of the Animals, 1941)

  • Roger Corman, 98, American film director (The Little Shop of Horrors, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre) and producer (Death Race 2000), honorary Oscar winner 2009

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Ratso Rizzo: I'm walking here! I'm walking here!

Joe Buck: I like the way I look. Makes me feel good, it does. And women like me, goddammit. Hell, the only one thing I ever been good for is lovin'. Women go crazy for me, that's a really true fact! Ratso, hell! Crazy Annie they had to send her away!

Ratso Rizzo: Then, how come you ain't scored once the whole time you been in New York?

Gretel McAlbertson: Why are you stealing food?

Ratso Rizzo: I was just, uh, noticing that you're out of salami. I think you oughtta have somebody go over to the delicatessen, you know, bring some more back.

Gretel McAlbertson: Gee, well, you know, it's free. You don't have to steal it.

Ratso Rizzo: Well, if it's free, then I ain't stealin'.

Joe Buck: I only get car sick on boats. But, it seems to me that's more the fish smell than the bouncing.

Joe Buck: [Rizzo polishes Joe's boots] Hey, you pretty damn good at that. I'll bet you could make a living at it if you tried.

Ratso Rizzo: And end up a hunchback like my old man? You think I'm crippled, you should have caught him at the end of the day. My old man spent 14 hours a day down in that subway. He come home at night - 2,3 dollars worth of change stained with shoe polish. Stupid bastard coughed his lungs out from breathing in that wax all day. Even a faggot undertaker couldn't get his nails clean. They had to bury him with gloves on.

Ratso Rizzo: The two basic items necessary to sustain life, are sunshine and coconut milk. Didya know that? That's a fact! In Florida, they you got a terrific amount of coconut trees there. In fact, I think they even got 'em in the, eh, gas stations over there.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 3

Impact/Significance: 9.5

Novelty: 9.25

Classic-ness: 8.5

Rewatchability: 3.5

Audience Score: 8.4 (80% Google, 88% RT)

Total: 42.15

Remaining Questions:

  • Does Joe stay in Florida?

  • Is this an LGBTQ film?


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