January 22nd: On The Town

32. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)

A young gigolo travels from Texas to New York City to make his fortune, after being repeatedly ripped off he befriends Ratso a crippled drifter and the two of them attempt to make their way in the world. With Schlesinger’s cross-cutting, flashing back and forward, colour-tinting and black and white sequences Midnight Cowboy can be a little jarring at first. This was the style of the time though, the same year as Easy Rider and a greater ‘youth culture’ movement in cinema. The cumulative effect of these techniques married with an excellent soundtrack is that you are really drawn into the confusing nature of Joe Buck’s move to New York. The dizzying descent into debt and desperation bottoms out in the freezing winter when the unlikely duo resort to pawning what they can to eat. Both actors (Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman) are superb, enacting a kind of modern Lenny and George duo – and an equally doomed arc of friendship.

Midnight Cowboy was a smash hit but, as good as it is, it’s difficult to see why. Homosexuality and the life of a borderline homeless drifter gigolo and his crippled sickly friend is a difficult sell. Perhaps there was a window for that film that might not exist now.

4 thoughts on “January 22nd: On The Town”

  1. I watched this in NY on honeymoon and found the grime and gorgeousness really, really bewitching. A lot of it’s down to what a beautiful, broken lunk Voight is. A lot of it’s down to how Hoffman plays up the revoltingness of Ratso and is able to trade that for audience sympathy. But maybe the big thing was watching it in the city, because it’s a very New York film, and if you swallow the mythos of NY the rest of the movie slips down easily.

    Really enjoying the blog, Chris!

  2. Glad you’re liking it.

    I was struck by the Schlesinger style which I’ve only really seen in his British films before. That’s a bit technical though. I liked the photography of New York quite a lot – I’l get over there and have a look one day myself.

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