Cast & Crew
Restless and dissatisfied with his life as a dishwasher in a small Texas town, young Joe Buck outfits himself in a flashy cowboy outfit and heads for New York City, confident that his fortune will be made by selling himself to wealthy, sex-starved Manhattan women. While traveling by bus, he recalls some of the events of his childhood--the father who abandoned his wayward mother, the endless stream of men who visited his frisky grandmother Sally, and a series of sexual encounters during adolescence, including a gang rape of both Joe and his girl friend Annie. After checking into a seedy Manhattan hotel, Joe takes to the streets and eventually picks up Cass, a rich, coarse, middle-aged blonde. Although they make love in her East Side apartment, Joe not only fails to collect a fee but ends up giving her $20 for cab fare. Later, at a cheap Broadway bar, Joe meets Ratso Rizzo, a crippled, tubercular petty thief and con artist who volunteers to work as his pimp and manager. Although the two misfits have a falling out when Ratso sends Joe to the sleazy room of Mr. O'Daniel, a homosexual religious fanatic, they patch up their differences and agree to share Ratso's dismally cold room in a condemned building. Almost in spite of themselves, their mutual loneliness leads to genuine friendship as Ratso shares with Joe his fantasy of someday living a life of luxury in Miami Beach. Economically, their partnership meets with little success, since Joe's typical "conquests" turn out to be as unprofitable as his encounter with a timid student to whom he gives himself in a 42nd street theater balcony, only to discover that the boy cannot pay. Things pick up a little when Joe meets Shirley, a chic swinger at an underground party in Greenwich Village, and earns $20 for spending a wild night with her. By now, however, winter has taken its toll on Ratso, and he can no longer walk. Determined to get the bus fare to take his friend to Florida, Joe brutally beats up an aging homosexual in a hotel room and steals his money. Ratso manages to stumble onto the bus, but he dies as they reach Miami. Facing an uncertain future, Joe Buck puts his arm around the dead body of the only true friend he ever had.
T. Tom Marlow
J. T. Masters
Marion Dougherty Associates
William J. Gerrity
Joshua Light Show
John Robert Lloyd
Hugh A. Robertson Jr.
Sear Electronic Music Production
Jean "toots" Theilemans
Warren W. Zevon
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Supporting Actress
Midnight Cowboy: Collector's Edition on DVD
Rizzo invites Joe to stay with him in the room he occupies in an abandoned building. Despite the squalid surroundings, the two disparate men begin to form a non-sexual friendship that deepens over time, the onus of which falls to Joe when Rizzo's health begins to fail. Joe continues to try to ply his trade, and sees no success until he meets rich socialite Sylvia (Brenda Vaccaro), who promises not only to be a return customer, but to send him to her friends. But the grind of dealing with New York and Rizzo's continued dream of moving to Florida moves him to give in, and the pair head south, where they hope they can start a new life with regular jobs.
Midnight Cowboy is a deliciously different film that shocked the theater going public when it was released. Inured to synthetic realism of other late 60s, early seventies films, where one was all too aware that the cast was trying to be natural, Midnight Cowboy brought a realism that audiences weren't prepared for. The film is so raw that is was slapped with an X-rating - and subsequently became the only X-rated film in history to win the Oscar® for best picture (the '69 film was re-rated R in '72 by the MPAA, although the film wasn't altered at all, in order to remove that particular blot from Hollywood's escutcheon). Both Voight and Hoffman give superb performances, creating complex characterizations and delivering their roles as if they were fashioned for them by a fine tailor. In addition to the film's Best Picture Oscar®, the film also won Best Director and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Voight, Hoffman, and Miles were also nominated.
The new two disc special edition includes a wealth of great supplements, starting with an audio commentary by producer Jerome Hellman. Hellman has the perfect voice for a commentary, soft but never boring or overzealous. Hellman was with the project from the beginning (roughly two years before they finally got underway), and shares an incredible wealth of background on the making of the film and the people involved. He is especially touching when he speaks of director John Schlesinger. A joy to listen to.
"After Midnight: Reflections on the Classic 35 Years Later" (30 mins) is a new documentary featuring new interviews with Dustin Hofffman and John Voight, as well as Sylvia Miles, Jerome Hellman, and others. Then there is a documentary with the self-explanatory title "Controversy and Acclaim," (10 mins) which also includes a new interview with the people listed above. "Celebrating John Schlesinger" has cast and crew looking back at the director's career. The disc also includes a photo gallery.
For more information about Midnight Cowboy, visit MGM Home Video. To order Midnight Cowboy, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Midnight Cowboy: Collector's Edition on DVD
Midnight Cowboy was easily the most provocative of the lot. It's a tale of urban alienation and human need, expressed through two social outcasts. The main character, Joe Buck, is a hopelessly naive Texan who leaves his dishwashing job and catches a bus to New York City where he plans to hustle wealthy women for sex and money. Once he arrives in Manhattan, he is quickly fleeced by Ratso Rizzo, a slightly crippled two-bit con artist. Yet, despite their initial conflagration the two men develop a supportive relationship with Ratso playing pimp to Buck's male prostitute. The irony is that Buck's macho cowboy getup mainly attracts homosexuals and not the clientele he originally envisioned.
Director John Schlesinger first read the James Leo Herlihy novel (also entitled Midnight Cowboy) while he was working on Darling in 1965 and suggested it as a future project to his producer at the time, Joseph Janni. But Janni wasn't comfortable with the idea of filming in the U.S. (he wanted to change the setting to London) so Schlesinger partnered with American producer Jerome Hellman and they began production following the release of Far From the Madding Crowd (1967). Naturally, the distributor, United Artists, was nervous about the sordid subject matter but after Schlesinger and Hellman agreed to cut their salaries in exchange for a percentage of the profits, the project was approved.
Schlesinger had longed for an opportunity to work on a film set in a totally American milieu; in this case, the rarely shown aspects of New York City life - the dreary flop houses, grimy coffee shops and seedy neighborhoods - which accurately depict the world of a male prostitute working the Times Square area. Initially Warren Beatty had expressed interest in playing Joe Buck but Schlesinger knew audiences would never accept the actor as a failed 42nd Street hustler and thought Michael Sarrazin would be a better choice. But Sarrazin's asking price was too high so the director turned to his second choice, Jon Voight. At the time, Voight had only appeared in minor film roles and was relatively untested as a lead actor but under Schlesinger's tutelage he quickly grew into his character. In John Schlesinger by Gene D. Phillips (Twayne Publishing), the director said, "Jon Voight took a tape recorder with him when we first went down to Big Spring, Texas, for some preproduction planning; and he recorded the voices of Texans whom he interviewed for bit parts in the picture. Then he drove us all mad by playing back the tapes incessantly on the way back to New York. But he did get his Texas drawl down perfectly in the bargain."
The other crucial casting decision was the part of Ratso. Dustin Hoffman was the clear favorite but Schlesinger wasn't sure that he was right for the part until Hoffman, dressed in a filthy raincoat, took him on a tour of New York's underbelly and demonstrated how easily he could blend into his surroundings. Hoffman also spent a considerable amount of time in the New York slums observing tramps and street people and studying their physical movements and behavior. As for Hoffman's makeup, the director said, "We wanted him to look homely, but not grotesque. The makeup man, with the help of Dustin's own dentist, made a dental plate for him in order to give the impression of Ratso's rotted teeth." The actor also took great care in perfecting Ratso's distinctive limp and his consumptive cough.
Filming on Midnight Cowboy began in May 1968 at the Filmways Studio in the Bronx. Schlesinger recalled "the designer recreated the flat in which Ratso and Joe Buck stayed from one that we had seen while we were location hunting. The building was an old tenement that was about to be torn down; so we took the doors from one of the rooms, along with some discarded furnishings, and put them right onto the studio set." Other location work was done in Florida and Texas and it wasn't unusual for Schlesinger to improvise certain scenes prior to shooting, particularly dialogue between Ratso and Buck. He would have the actors converse in character and then add bits and pieces of their rehearsal dialogue into the final script.
When Midnight Cowboy was released theatrically, it received an X-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America due to its adult treatment of sexuality which now seems tame by today's standards. But instead of hurting its chances at the box office, the X-rating obviously helped the film for it went on to become the third top-grossing film of 1969 after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Love Bug. Shortly after its release, the rating was changed to a more benign R. Midnight Cowboy also scored seven Oscar nominations winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Waldo Salt).
In retrospect, Schlesinger has admitted that there are some things in Midnight Cowboy that he would change now such as the overlong party sequence featuring Andy Warhol regulars like Viva, Ultra Violet and Paul Morrisey. But, for the most part, he felt he succeeded in making a film that was compassionate rather than bleak, one that truly captured "the mixture of desperation and humor which I found all along Forty-Second Street."
Producer: Jerome Hellman
Director: John Schlesinger
Screenplay: Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy
Art Direction: John Robert Lloyd
Cinematography: Adam Holender
Editing: Hugh A. Robertson
Music: John Barry
Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo), Jon Voight (Joe Buck), Sylvia Miles (Cass), John McGiver (O'Daniel), Brenda Vaccaro (Shirley), Barnard Hughes (Towny), Ruth White (Sally Buck), Jennifer Salt (Annie), Gilman Rankin (Woodsy Niles), Bob Balaban (young boy in movie theatre).
by Jeff Stafford
I only get carsick on boats.- Joe Buck
You fell. Hey fella, you fell.- Shirley
You know, in my own place, my name ain't Ratso. I mean, it just so happens that in my own place my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo.- Ratso Rizzo
Well, I can't say all that.- Joe Buck
Rico, then.- Ratso Rizzo
Oh, Joe it's... it's so difficult, I-- You're a nice person, Joe, I- I- I should never have asked you up here, you're... You're a lovely person, really. Oh, God, I loathe life, I loathe it! Please go, please.- Towny
Why are you stealing food?- Gretel McAlbertson
I was just, uh, noticing that you're out of salami. I think you oughtta have somebody go over to the delicatessen, you know, bring some more back.- Ratso Rizzo
Gee, well, you know, it's free. You don't have to steal it.- Gretel McAlbertson
Well, if it's free, then I ain't stealin'.- Ratso Rizzo
Dustin Hoffman ad-libbed the famous line, "I'm walking here! I'm walking here!" as the cab driver almost hit him when he was walking across the street.
The cab which nearly hit Hoffman was a real one, not part of the production. (The scene was filmed in actual city crowds.) He improvised his line because he didn't want to ruin a difficult take.
Dustin Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to ensure his limp would be consistent from shot to shot.
Sylvia Miles gave the shortest performance ever nominated for an Oscar. Her entire role lasted only six minutes.
Location scenes filmed in New York City, Texas, and Florida.
1969 New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor (Voight).
Selected as one of the National Board of Review's Ten Best English-language Films of 1969.
Selected as one of the New York Times Ten Best Films of 1969.
Released in United States Spring May 1969
Re-released in United States February 25, 1994
Released in United States 1978
Released in United States 1998
Released in United States March 1998
Released in United States June 2009
Shown at Cinequet 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.
Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival March 5-15, 1998.
Shown at Los Angeles Film Festival (Behind the Scenes: Films with Extended Conversations) June 18-28, 2009.
Released in USA on video.
Film was re-released in a limited engagement in the USA in 1994 as part of a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration.
Selected in 1994 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States Spring May 1969
Re-released in United States February 25, 1994
Released in United States 1978 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - "Salute to Oscar" - Filmex Marathon) April 13 - May 7, 1978.)
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Cinequet 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 - February 4, 1998.)
Released in United States March 1998 (Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival March 5-15, 1998.)
Released in United States June 2009 (Shown at Los Angeles Film Festival (Behind the Scenes: Films with Extended Conversations) June 18-28, 2009.)
1969 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Drama).