Midnight CowboyAFI Rank: #36
Year Released: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight
Midnight Cowboy was originally rated X, and not for the reasons movies usually get into that range. When we think about X ratings we often think about wild sexual scenes involving busty blondes and handsome studs in elegant settings. Here it's because John Voight is a disillusioned Texas cowboy who has lost his way in the grimy depths of New York City, and is doing what he has to do to get some food into him.
Voight did have his dreams of mansions and beautiful women. The whole reason he came to New York City was not to be an actor or a wall street mogul, but to be a high class male prostitute. He thought the money would shower on him and that he'd live a life of luxury. However, New York City wasn't that kind to him. He finds instead that he's regularly taken advantage of by the natives, can barely afford his bug-infested apartment where the TV set charges by the minute. Dustin Hoffman is one of those who uses and abuses him at first - but then fate throws them together and they're doing their best to survive without heat, without jobs, and without much food.
There are barely any women in this film. When one appears, she is only there to take advantage of Voight and then vanish again. Most of the characters are males - because Voight finds the only way he can bring in money is to frequent gay movie houses. Even there he doesn't do very well.
It's certainly not an upbeat, cheery movie, but it is a look at an area of life that few other movies tackle. If we wanted a "glamorous New York City" view we could choose from hundreds of films and TV shows which portray that. Instead, this looks beneath the surface of the city, at the people who can barely afford something to eat, who would never dream of going into the ritzy bars that characters in other films waltz in and out of daily.
You have to wonder at times - why don't the two men apply for all the base-level jobs that do exist in the city? To be a janitor, or dishwasher, or other such thing? Surely that would be better than starving and shivering. But Hoffman just relies on Voight, and Voight won't give up on his dream. He's convinced he can make it as a stud, if he just finds the right way to promote himself.
Adding dimension to the story are the flashbacks into Voight's life in Texas which apparently was not all wine and roses either. He had a girl he loved - and did something happen to her? Maybe to them both? The pieces come in fragments, and it makes you wonder just how he got to the place he is now.
Well worth watching to give a view into what New York City means to many people who can't seem to get a hand-hold on a decent life.
Buy Midnight Cowboy from Amazon.com
AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100