Note: This is #47 in my 52 Classic Movies in 52 Weeks challenge for 2009.
Good God, that was depressing. More so because for some reason I had gotten this movie mixed up in my head with Rhinestone Cowboy, a 1984 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton. They are VERY different.
To whit, Midnight Cowboy follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young man from Texas who packs his bags and heads to New York City during the 1960s. Buck, who has been told he’s good at sex, aims to become a gigolo for wealthy New York women but is met with limited success. Which is to say no success. It’s just plain painful to see this naieve young man dress up as a cowboy and try to hit up older New York women for paid sex. This quickly results in Buck being destitute and utterly alienated from a city full of millions of people. Enter Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small-time thief with a bad attitude and a worse chest cold. Ratso initially conns Buck out of $20, but eventually the two form a bond born out of mutual alienation and dispair over their predicament in life. The remainder of the movie explores this relationship and peels back revelations about Buck’s and Ratso’s past lives. It ain’t pretty.
I suppose that Midnight Cowboy marks the beginning of the gritty, dark, and depressing period of films during the 1970s –the kind of stuff that explores urban decay, estrangement, and despair. It’s certainly got all those traits in spades, along with a tragic ending, though there’s no denying that the story of Buck and Ratso is powerful and bittersweet. These guys are ugly and sad, but they ARE human and the observant viewer will almost certainly find something to empathize or identify with. Just don’t watch this one when you’re bummed out to start with.