A Midnight Cowboy Riding Into The City

A Midnight Cowboy Riding Into The City

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
20th Century Fox Home Ent. 

Release date: May 2nd 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 108 minutes

Year of production: 1969

Director: John Schlesinger

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Heard the one about the cowboy who walked into a bar? Some films you hear so much about that it feels as if you’ve seen them countless times already.

This was the case with Midnight Cowboy, a film which until a few nights ago I realised I had actually never seen before!

Midnight Cowboy

This 1969 multi-Oscar winner launched the careers of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as serious actors and is considered the crowning glory in the career of its director, John Schlesinger. Along with Marathon Man (1976), both films approach the issue of homosexuality without it becoming a central theme as it would be in Schlesinger’s final film, the ill-conceived The Next Best Thing (1999), starring Madonna and Rupert Everett.

Although Midnight Cowboy’s title might lead you to believe it’s a western, it’s actually a gritty take on life in the Big Apple for a couple of homeless guys who form an unlikely friendship.

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a dishwasher from Texas who dreams of making it big. With his tall good looks and offbeat dress sense, he’s convinced he can make a fortune servicing the lonely and unsatisfied women of New York as a gigolo. His first client, Cass (Sylvia Miles), turns out not to have any money and tries to hustle the hustler instead.

Midnight Cowboy

Enrico ‘Ratso’ Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) is an equally luckless character who offers to become Joe’s pimp and tries to find him clients both male and female.

Unfortunately Joe’s clients tend to take what they’re looking for but have a hard time coughing up the cash. It will take him a while before he learns to toughen up or at least enforce a “Pay First” policy.

Wrapped up in its narrative is also the story of how Joe came to leave his hometown. After falling hard for a girl who turned out to be town’s bicycle (everyone had a go) she’s then raped by a gang of hoodlums who also have their merry way with Joe. The next morning the traumatised girl’s only words place him squarely at the scene of the crime.

Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy, along with films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1976) and Easy Rider (1969) helped to usher in the “American New Wave”, a new breed of films with themes such as alienation, sex and drugs, rebelling against authoritarianism and a relentless search for freedom. In many ways, these films would go on to influence directors in the 1970’s, paving the way for Dirty Harry (1971) and Taxi Driver (1976), thereby becoming what is referred to as “The Last Golden Age of American Cinema”.

Laced with hallucinogenic flashbacks and sequences inspired by Andy Warhol, Midnight Cowboy hardly seems worth the praise today for it’s controversial topics and sexually explicit images, but the film is worth looking at in the context of the time it was made in.


  • Audio Commentary by producer Jerome Hellman
  • After Midnight: Reflecting On the Classic 35 Years Later (29.58)
  • Controversy and Acclaim (10.09)
  • Celebrating Schlesinger (9.35)

America was sending more troops to Vietnam, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army, and Martin Luther King was leading anti-war protests where draft cards were ceremoniously burned. Midnight Cowboy addresses, in its own way, a need to look for something better than what was being offered while at the same time, painting a picture of loneliness we can all identify with.

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