Starring: Dustin Hoffman & Jon Voight
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Studio: MGM Awards Series
Video: Double-sided: 4:3 pan & scan + 1.85:1 widescreen, color
Audio: DD 5.1, English; DD mono, French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Length: 113 minutes
The Academy Award Best Picture of 1969 is back and you should probably see it, whether for the first time or a revisit. There’s no extras, which is a bit surprising – it would have been interesting to hear either Hoffman or Voight talking about the original production. But we have a two-sided disc and a high quality transfer in both cases. A bit on the dark side, but then that fits the story line. There seems to be nothing dated about the movie at all, unless you consider the wild/arty party that Joe and Ratso get invited to – featuring such lights of the NYC avantgarde world of the 60s as Joe Morrisey, Ultraviolet and Taylor Mead. The moving theme from the soundtrack featured jazz harmonicist Toots Thielmanns.
Midnight Cowboy has one of the great opening shots in film. I thought I had left the Arcam player I’m reviewing on one of its built-in test patterns: the entire screen off-white with some texture to it. Finally a greenish strip appears at the bottom, with some cattle grazing in it. It’s the blank screen of a Texas drive-in, at which Joe Buck was working. The naive fake Texas “cowboy” takes the bus to New York City, expecting to make big bucks servicing wealthy women. It doesn’t quite pan out that way, and he’s first taken advantage of by a different sort of hustler from the Bronx: the gimpy, cough-plagued Ratso.
The two finally hook up again and develop a sort of bond while living without heat or light in an abandoned building marked for demolition. In spite of their awful existence, slowly Joe learns more about himself and life and develops a finally touching devotion to Ratzo – who is obviously dying of something, though Joe doesn’t seem to realize it. Ratso’s fantasies of Florida as the Promised Land lead eventually to the outcast pair getting on a bus bound for Miami.
I probably haven’t seen this one since 1969. I noticed this time many unusual framing details – often at the beginning of a shot. Such as focusing quickly on the shapely legs and expensive shoes of a woman in one of the horse-drawn carriages, then panning up to the dirty and disheveled pair Joe and Ratzo crossing the street. Or Joe following a woman he saw as a possibility as they pass a window at Tiffany’s with an expensive ring displayed. While Joe glances at the woman a hand quickly comes into the window and removes the ring so that when Joe looks back again it is gone.
– John Sunier