R, 1 hr. 53 min. Directed By: John Schlesinger. Release Date: May 25, 1969. DVD Release Date: Jan 1, 2000.
To see this movie, I almost upped the end date for my “classic movies” project when a reader suggested it. However, I decided to stick to my original guns, and wouldn’t you know it, Midnight Cowboy appeared on Netflix’s streaming option only three months later. I’d seen pieces of this over the years, and knew some trivia about the movie from various places. Basically, what I knew was that when Zap Branigan loses his job as DOOP’s fleet commander and is lounging on a corner wearing a fringed leather jacket and red neckerchief with his former aide, Kif, it was a Midnight Cowboy spoof. I also knew that this was the first X-rated film to ever win an Academy Award. That might actually be the “only” rather than the “first,” but I’m on the right track.
Watching this all the way through, I filled in the blanks. First, I realized that Jon Voight plays arguably the most inept hooker ever. And I do mean ever. I suspect it’s the only time a member of the world’s oldest profession has ever paid out to his or her “john” (although “jane” may be more appropriate in this case) after the deed was done. I learned there are some good performances in this, including Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. I was also surprised by how frank an open the discussion of the sexual content goes. If the point was to spotlight the life of male prostitues, then there were no holds barred, no doors left closed. I have to give the filmmakers credit for that. It was pretty brave, and while I didn’t think that Midnight Cowboy was more graphic than what you might find in an R-rated movie today (or a PG-13 movie, for that matter) I think it must have been some scandalous-ass shit, to quote Ray from Archer.
This isn’t going to be everyone’s movie. It’s not… fun. And frankly, it’s not all that interesting. I’m not really concerned about what the he-whores were up to in the 60s. But, I’d heard some very good things about this movie. From a technical perspective, that’s certainly true. The performers are top notch, and speaking of Jon Voight, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better performance out of the man who gave us Angelina Jolie. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a better performance out of her, either. Dustin Hoffman was great, but I have seen him do better. There are a few story elements that I found to be confusing… such as the flashbacks to Crazy Annie, which are not only not entirely clear, they don’t help “explain” why Joe Buck is where he is. I hear tell the book that this movie was based on has much more information attached to those flashbacks, but that’s all hearsay.
This might be an interesting look in the life and culture of New Yorkers in the 60s… but you really have to be interested. If you’re looking at joining the world’s oldest profession, I’d suggest another movie for reference. Maybe Deuce Bigalow, because even old Deuce pulled in more income than Joe Buck. Actually, Deuce pulls in more in the first attempt than we saw Joe Buck get in the whole movie.