Movie: Midnight Cowboy (1969) #OscarThrowback

As with all movie/book blogs: there will be spoilers!

My Thoughts While Watching:
This must be a record for me: 45 seconds in: “Wait, do I have the right movie?”  Get along lil doggie! I guess this is the one.

What are you going to do back east?  ….There’s lot’s of women begging for it, paying for it!  And so begins Joe Buck’s (Voight) journey east to become a male prostitute, um, I mean hustler.  I am so confused.

Joe Buck’s bus ride to NYC was choppy and we were introduced to a parade of two minute characters ranging from an old man to an old woman, a single mom to a nun.  Woven between the characters were flashbacks to Joe’s past with his grandma and girlfriend.  He arrives in NYC and all the seedy stuff you hear about is in the film.  They paid a quarter to watch TVs in the hotels??

In his first walk through NYC, we see the tall cowboy and his hat a head above the crowd, strutting along to Everybody’s Talkin. He is clean, in charge and optimistic.  Enjoy seeing him this way while it lasts, he will change quickly (experience is a bitch).  As he is walking, he passes Tiffany & Co.  In front of the store there is a man laying face down (in a suit) on the pavement. People walk around and past him, paying no heed.  This is an omen for the movie.  How the people, and the city, give zero shits about the individual and they do not stop for a struggling man, hurt and alone.  It is a constant move forward (with or without you) by those around you.

At this point in the movie I feel uncomfortable. He stalks women and tries to use the opening line “Excuse me ma’am, where is the statue of liberty?”  Finally it works and he has his chance with a rich lady walking a poodle.  She takes him up to her penthouse.  She talks on the phone with a man (husband? lover? trick?) as Joe tries to seduce her.  I feel like this is also trying to show an example of New York, the upper class and their ability to use those beneath them with so little concern that they would not even interrupt a phone call to pay proper attention. They eventually fall into bed and afterward Joe tries to explain that he expects payment.  She then turns the trick on him with a few tears and he ends up giving her money.  Lesson one for a hooker (er, um, hustler): get the money up front before services are provided.  I need to state this: Damn, that lady had a beautiful floral bra!

He meets a sweaty Rico Rizzo (Hoffman).  Wait, Joe is sweaty too.  Are we suppose to feel like it is summer in the city prior to the wide spread installation of air conditioners?  I feel as if I can smell them from here. Especially in that leather fringe sweat filled jacket. Rizzo has a limp (I tried to look up what was wrong with him, it never really explains in the movie.  The interwebs gave me everything from childhool polio to TB.  This is still a mystery to me.)  Rizzo tells him he needs management and he knows a guy.  Ten spot up front and ten for expenses when they get there.  Wait, is Joe getting a pimp?  (still confused – I had SEVERAL “wait…what??” moments in this movie)  They walk through a protest (my fave sign: Liberate Freedom).  They get to the hotel where the pimp aka manager resides and Rizzo gives him the slip.  You immediately know this will not end well.  I am still not sure what the robe-guy’s game was but we find ourselves praying on our knees to a light-up Jesus that is on the inside of the toilet door.  So, Joe has been scammed for his last bit of money and now what will he do?

We go through a black and white to color montage that shows flashbacks to his past in Texas. (wait…what?)  He AND his girlfriend were raped by a group of men?  (still confused)  We can tell he was raised on TV and all of the stereotypes and fairytales that come along with the shows there.  This feeds into his skewed beliefs that he is a hustler.  So here is Joe, no money and trying to turn tricks in the “gay section” of NYC.  He goes into a movie theater with a nerdy looking man with a binder and a book and thick glasses.  When the deed is done we then find them in the bathroom where the man is confessing to not have the money that he said he would pay.  Damn it Joe, first lesson of hookers: get paid BEFORE the service!  He really sucks as this hustler thing.

As he is passing a diner, he sees Rizzo and Rizzo looks gross AF.  No, the sweating thing is so gross.  He confronts him over the money taken.  We go through another flashback montage.  (wait….what?)  Did HE rape his girlfriend?  (so very…confused)  “Only thing I have going for me is loving women.”  Suddenly, Joe and Rizzo are best buds and are conning people and living in a condemned apartment building.  They attempt to scam a person looking for a “gentleman escort” and are tossed out of a women’s hotel on their ear (I know NYC women’s hotels are a thing, Tom Hanks got his start on Bosom Buddies and it was set in a similar type establishment – ha!).  When there was a moment of hope that this was going to work, Rizzo has a daydream montage which includes his running on the beach in Florida (his ultimate dream) and let me tell you what: it was my one and only giggle during the whole movie.  I wonder, was this movie the foundation for the Rain Man character?

It is now winter and their hustles have gotten them nowhere.  Rizzo is growing sicker by the scene.  Joe is growing more stupid by the scene.  They pawn Joe’s one and only possession: his radio.  We hope for a turn in their luck and they kinda-sorta get it.  While eating in a diner with the money they now have, a “brother/sister weird 70s duo” come in and take Joe’s picture and hand him a flyer.  He and Rizzo then head to the party.  There is free food, drugs, booze.  Rizzo works the room, pickpocketing and scamming his way throughout.  He pimps Joe out to a young woman and then falls down the stairs, his mysterious illness is crashing in on him.

Once again he waits until AFTER to bring up payment.  Luckily, this woman was ahead of him and ready to pay.  She did one better than the others, this woman has set up a meeting with another woman for him later in the week.  Maybe we are onto something here, maybe the tide has turn.  Nope. When Joe returns to the condemned apartment, we realize that Rizzo is at the end of whatever it is he is battling.  In a frantic attempt to get enough money to get Rizzo to Florida, Joe turns a trick with a man and ends up (literally) feeding him a telephone receiver while stealing all of the money in his wallet.  They have enough money to get to Miami by bus.  By this point Rizzo is all but paralyzed.  He wets himself.  Joe hops off the bus at the next layover and buys them food and new clothes.  Thank GOD because I could smell that outfit he has worn through three NYC seasons through the television!  They are cleaned up, looking good for Miami.  Rizzo is leaning against the window looking out.  The camera pans to Joe as he talks about giving up the hustle and getting a real job. It stays on him too long… (wait…what?)  You sons a bitches aren’t going to let Rizzo even see the beach???  Yep, pan to Rizzo, he is dead-eyed and gone.

Ugh.  I looked it up two times to make sure this was the right movie.  It was.  It won best picture.  And, for the gazillionth time, I ask myself: WHY?!?

Have you seen it? (Yes? I’m sorry).  I was told that everyone should experience it once.  Nope.  If you have not seen it, save yourself.  What did you think of it?  Let me know in the comments below.

For a list of winners and nominees from the 1970 Oscars, go here:

Some Interviews and Extra Video:

IMDB Synopsis: A naive hustler travels from Texas to New York City to seek personal fortune but, in the process, finds himself a new friend.


Lead Actor: Jon Voight

Lead Actor: Dustin Hoffman

Director:  John Schlesinger



Additional Movie Info:

It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90% Fresh.  It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 88% liking it.  Average Rating: 3.9/5 with a number of User Ratings: 39,762.

Movie Reviews:

Specs:  Release date: 25 May 1969 (USA) / Runtime: 113 minutes / Budget: $3.6M

IMDB Trivia:

  • Before Dustin Hoffman auditioned for this film, he knew that his all-American image could easily cost him the job. To prove he could do it, he asked the auditioning film executive to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan, and in the meantime, dressed himself in filthy rags. The executive arrived at the appointed corner and waited, barely noticing the “beggar” less than ten feet away who was accosting people for spare change. At last, the beggar walked up to him and revealed his true identity.
  • According to Dustin Hoffman, the taxi incident wasn’t scripted. During an L.A. Times interview in January 2009, he said that the movie didn’t have a permit to close down the New York City street for filming, so they had to set up the scene with a hidden camera in a van driving down the street, and remote microphones for the actors. After fifteen takes, it was finally going well, but this time, as they crossed the street, a taxi ran a red light. Hoffman wanted to say “Hey, we’re SHOOTING here!”, not only from fear of his life, but also from anger that the taxi driver might have ruined the take. Instead, being the professional that he is, he stayed in character and shouted “Hey, we’re WALKING here!” and made movie history. Jon Voight also backed up this version of the incident, saying that seeing how well Hoffman was handling the situation, he likewise stayed in character.
  • John Wayne was dismayed when this film won the 1970 Best Picture Oscar. He told Playboy Magazine, “Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of these two men in Midnight Cowboy, a story about two fags, qualifies as a perverse movie?”
  • The ending was parodied on Seinfeld (1989) season six, episode eight, “The Mom & Pop Store”, with Kramer in the role of Ratso, and Seinfeld playing Joe.
  • The comic book the little girl is reading on the bus is Wonder Woman #178, cover dated September and October 1968.
  • Joe stayed at the Hotel Claridge, at the southeast corner of Broadway and West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan. His room overlooked the northern half of Times Square. The building, designed by D. H. Burnham & Company and opened in 1911, has since been demolished.
  • The crowd of sidewalk protesters that Ratso and Joe walk through have signs with pointless generic messages such as, “End Madness Now” and “Liberate Freedom”.
  • This film came out two years after “The Graduate”, and coincidentally, both films end with Dustin Hoffman and his costar sitting at the back of a bus, with elderly passengers looking back at them.


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