This seminal film from director John Schlesinger is re-packaged as part of the Criterion Collection from Sony, fully restored in 4K with a DTS-HD 5.1 surround soundtrack.
Midnight Cowboy became the first X-rated film to win the best picture Oscar after its release in 1969. It was given the X because of what the MPAA termed “homosexual frame of reference”.
Midnight Cowboy is about a young, naïve self-termed hustler named Joe Buck, played wonderfully by Jon Voight in what was his break-out movie.
Buck leaves his home in Texas and travels to New York to meet some rich women and charm them out of their money. Very quickly he meets Ratso Rizzo, played by a fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman, just on the back of The Graduate.
Ratso and Buck have a shaky start in their relationship but eventually end up becoming close friends as the pair hunt for their fortune on the grimy streets of New York late at night.
Ratso steals what he can to get by, limping and coughing his way through life whilst Buck tries to charm the pants off anyone in order to get by.
There are three major things that stand out whilst watching Midnight Cowboy. The first is the direction from Schlesinger, which is simply stunning. Schlesinger grew up in London and cut his teeth acting and directing in television and documentaries.
His style, helped by cinematographer Adam Holender, is one that brings pace and movement to the screen, a kind of frenetic energy abounds with a touch of surreal thrown in for good measure.
The second thing to stand out is the writing from Waldo Salt. There’s a lovely realism to the film as the relationship between the two men grows, the dialogue is real and believable.
The cast, and many of the crew, spent weeks rehearsing the film before shooting began and Salt would record the sessions as Voight and Hoffman would often improvise scenes, these improvisations would often make it into the script.
Even on-set Voight and Hoffman remained in character and Salt would overhear their conversations, slipping them into the movie later.
The final thing, but by no means any less important, are the performances by both Voight and Hoffman. Individually their performances are brilliant; Hoffman excels as the sweaty, dirty little man Ratso, living in squalor and trying to get by against this seemingly brash cowboy Buck, who Voight imbues with a naivety and innocence that’s delightful.
Together, the two men shine and when on screen at the same time it’s hard to know who you should be looking at, in a good way, both performances are so good that you want to give each of them your all.
As for the blu-ray, the restoration is decent. It doesn’t have the gloss and sheen that many of the new films have but, personally, I think that adds to the movie.
There are a plethora of extras: commentary from 1991 featuring Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman, The Crowd Around The Cowboy – a really interesting documentary made on location in 1969, an Academy Award-nominated documentary about Waldo Salt, two short documentaries on the making of the film, interview with Voight on The David Frost Show from 1970 and his original rehearsal video which is a must-see, an interview with Schlesinger for BAFTA LA in 2000, excerpts from a 2002 BAFTA LA Tribute to Schlesinger and an essay on the movie.
Midnight Cowboy is one of those films that many will say is a ‘must see’ movie. This restored edition is an excellent way to do just that.