Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American buddy drama film. Based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy, the film was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, with notable smaller roles being filled by Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Salt, and Barnard Hughes. Set in New York City, Midnight Cowboy depicts the unlikely friendship between two hustlers: naive prostitute Joe Buck (Voight), and ailing con man "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman).
The film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated film ever to win Best Picture (though such a classification no longer exists), and was the first gay-related Best Picture winner. It has since been placed 36th on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, and 43rd on its 2007 updated version.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Schlesinger|
|Produced by||Jerome Hellman|
|Screenplay by||Waldo Salt|
|Based on||Midnight Cowboy|
by James Leo Herlihy
|Music by||John Barry|
|Edited by||Hugh A. Robertson|
Jerome Hellman Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$44.8 million|
Joe Buck, a young Texan working as a dishwasher, quits his job and heads to New York City to become a prostitute. Initially unsuccessful, he manages to bed a middle-aged New York woman in her posh apartment, but the encounter ends badly: he gives her money after she throws a tantrum when he requests payment, not realizing she is a call girl.
Joe meets Enrico Salvatore "Ratso" Rizzo, a con man with a limp who takes $20 from him by ostensibly introducing him to a pimp. After discovering that the man is actually an unhinged religious fanatic, Joe flees in pursuit of Ratso but cannot find him. Joe spends his days wandering the city and sitting in his hotel room. Soon broke, he is locked out of his hotel room and his belongings are impounded.
Joe tries to make money by receiving oral sex from a young man in a movie theater, but learns after the fact that the young man has no money. Joe threatens him and asks for his watch, but eventually lets him go unharmed. The next day, Joe spots Ratso and angrily shakes him down. Ratso offers to share the apartment in a condemned building where he is squatting. Joe reluctantly accepts his offer, and they begin a "business relationship" as hustlers. As they develop a bond, Ratso's health grows steadily worse.
In a flashback, Joe's grandmother raises him after his mother abandons him. He also has a tragic relationship with Annie, a mentally unstable girl. Ratso tells Joe his father was an illiterate Italian immigrant shoeshiner whose job led to a bad back and lung damage from long-term exposure to shoe polish. Ratso learned shoeshining from his father but considers it demeaning and generally refuses to do it (although he does shine Joe's cowboy boots to help him attract clients). Ratso harbors hopes of moving to Miami, shown in daydreams in which he and Joe frolic carefree on a beach and are surrounded by dozens of adoring women.
An eccentric man and woman approach Joe in a diner and give him a flyer inviting him to a Warhol-esque party; Joe and Ratso attend, but Ratso's poor health and hygiene attract unwanted attention from several guests. Joe mistakes a joint for a cigarette and starts to hallucinate after taking several long puffs. He leaves the party with Shirley, a socialite who agrees to pay him $20 for spending the night, but Joe cannot perform sexually. They play Scribbage together and the resulting wordplay leads Shirley to suggest that Joe may be gay; suddenly he is able to perform. The next morning, she sets up her friend as Joe's next client and it appears that his career is starting to thrive.
When Joe returns home, Ratso is bedridden and feverish. He refuses medical help and begs Joe to put him on a bus to Florida. Desperate, Joe picks up a man in an amusement arcade and robs him during a violent encounter in the man's hotel room. There's a notion, unresolved, that Joe murdered the victim. Joe buys bus tickets with the money so he and Ratso can board a bus to Florida. During the trip, Ratso's health deteriorates further: he becomes incontinent and sweat-drenched.
At a rest stop, Joe buys new clothing for Ratso and himself and discards his cowboy outfit. On the bus, Joe muses that there must be easier ways to earn a living than hustling, and tells Ratso he plans to get a regular job in Florida. When Ratso fails to respond, Joe realizes that he has already died. The driver tells Joe there is nothing to do but continue to Miami and asks Joe to close Ratso's eyelids. Joe, with tears welling in his eyes, sits with his arm around his dead friend.
The opening scenes were filmed in Big Spring, Texas. A roadside billboard, stating "IF YOU DON'T HAVE AN OIL WELL...GET ONE!" was shown as the New York-bound bus carrying Joe Buck rolled through Texas. Such advertisements, common in the Southwestern United States in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, promoted Eddie Chiles's Western Company of North America. In the film, Joe stays at the Hotel Claridge, at the southeast corner of Broadway and West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan. His room overlooked the northern half of Times Square. The building, designed by D. H. Burnham & Company and opened in 1911, was demolished in 1972. A motif featured three times throughout the New York scenes was the sign at the top of the facade of the Mutual of New York (MONY) Building at 1740 Broadway. It was extended into the Scribbage scene with Shirley the socialite, when Joe's incorrect spelling of the word "money" matched that of the signage.
Despite his portrayal of Joe Buck, a character hopelessly out of his element in New York, Jon Voight is a native New Yorker, hailing from Yonkers. Dustin Hoffman, who played a grizzled veteran of New York's streets, is from Los Angeles. Voight was paid "scale", or the Screen Actors Guild minimum wage, for his portrayal of Joe Buck, a concession he willingly made to obtain the part.
The line "I'm walkin' here!", which reached No. 27 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, is often said to have been improvised, but producer Jerome Hellman disputes this account on the 2-disc DVD set of Midnight Cowboy. Although the scene, which originally had Ratso pretend to be hit by a taxi to feign an injury, is written into the first draft of the original script, Hoffman's version explained it differently on an installment of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. He stated that there were many takes to hit the traffic light just right so that they wouldn't have to pause while walking. In that take, the timing was perfect, but a cab came out of nowhere and nearly hit them. Hoffman wanted to say, "We're filming a movie here!", but decided not to ruin the take.
Upon initial review by the Motion Picture Association of America, Midnight Cowboy received a "Restricted" ("R") rating. However, after consulting with a psychologist, executives at United Artists were told to accept an "X" rating, due to the "homosexual frame of reference" and its "possible influence upon youngsters". The film was released with an X. The MPAA later broadened the requirements for the "R" rating to allow more content and raised the age restriction from sixteen to seventeen. The film was later rated "R" for a reissue in 1971. The film retains its R rating.
Critical response to the film has been largely positive; Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune said of the film: "I cannot recall a more marvelous pair of acting performances in any one film." In a 25th anniversary retrospective in 1994, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote: "Midnight Cowboy's peep-show vision of Manhattan lowlife may no longer be shocking, but what is shocking, in 1994, is to see a major studio film linger this lovingly on characters who have nothing to offer the audience but their own lost souls."
Midnight Cowboy currently holds a 90% approval rating on online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.2/10, based on 62 reviews. The website's critical consensus states: "John Schlesinger's gritty, unrelentingly bleak look at the seedy underbelly of urban American life is undeniably disturbing, but Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight's performances make it difficult to turn away."
Midnight Cowboy won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
John Barry, who supervised the music and composed the score, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. Fred Neil's song "Everybody's Talkin'" won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male for Harry Nilsson. Schlesinger chose the song as its theme, and the song underscores the first act. Other songs considered for the theme included Nilsson's own "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" and Randy Newman's "Cowboy". Bob Dylan wrote "Lay Lady Lay" to serve as the theme song, but did not finish it in time. The movie's main theme, "Midnight Cowboy", featured harmonica by Toots Thielemans, but on its album version it was played by Tommy Reilly. The soundtrack album was released by United Artists Records in 1969. The title music from Midnight Cowboy and some of the incidental queues were included in the documentary ToryBoy The Movie in 2011.
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
The year 1969 in film involved some significant events, with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dominating the U.S. box office and becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time and Midnight Cowboy, a film rated X, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.23rd British Academy Film Awards
The 23rd British Film Awards, given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 1970, honoured the best films of 1969.27th Golden Globe Awards
The 27th Golden Globe Awards, honoring the best in film and television for 1969 films, were held on February 2, 1970.42nd Academy Awards
The 42nd Academy Awards were presented April 7, 1970, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. For the second year in a row, there was no official host. Awards were presented by seventeen "Friends of Oscar": Bob Hope, John Wayne, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Jon Voight, Myrna Loy, Clint Eastwood, Raquel Welch, Candice Bergen, James Earl Jones, Katharine Ross, Cliff Robertson, Ali MacGraw, Barbara McNair, Elliott Gould, Claudia Cardinale, and Elizabeth Taylor. This was the first Academy Awards ceremony to be broadcast via satellite to an international audience, but only outside North America. Mexico and Brazil were the sole countries to broadcast the event live.This is currently the highest rated of the televised Academy Awards ceremonies, according to Nielsen ratings. The record, as of 2017, remains unbroken thanks to the emergence of the Super Bowl as the biggest annual event of awards season.
Midnight Cowboy became the first – and so far, the only – X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Its rating has since been downgraded to R. The previous year had seen the only G-rated film to win Best Picture, Carol Reed's Oliver!.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? set an Oscar record by receiving nine nominations without one for Best Picture.
This was the last time until the 68th Academy Awards wherein none of the four acting winners had appeared in Best Picture nominees, as well as the first time where every acting nomination, as well as every major nominated film, was in color.Bob Balaban
Robert Elmer Balaban (born August 16, 1945) is an American actor, author, producer, and director. He was one of the producers nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for Gosford Park (2001), in which he also appeared. Balaban's other film roles include the drama Midnight Cowboy (1969), science fiction films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Altered States (1980), the Christopher Guest comedies Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006), the dark fantasy film Lady in the Water (2006), and the Wes Anderson films Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Isle of Dogs (2018).
As a director, Balaban has directed three feature films, in addition to numerous television episodes and films. He is also an author of children's novels.
He directed a documentary about Robert Altman.Dustin Hoffman
Dustin Lee Hoffman (born August 8, 1937) is an American actor and director. Hoffman is best known for his versatile portrayals of antiheroes and emotionally vulnerable characters. He is the recipient of various accolades including two Academy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards
(including the Cecil B. DeMille Award), four BAFTAs, three Drama Desk Awards, two Emmy Awards, and a Genie Award. Hoffman received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1999 and the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2012.
Hoffman first drew critical praise for starring in the play, Eh?, for which he won a Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award. This achievement was soon followed by his breakthrough 1967 film role as Benjamin Braddock, the title character in The Graduate. Since that time, Hoffman's career has largely been focused on the cinema, with sporadic returns to television and to the stage. Hoffman's films include Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Straw Dogs, Papillon, Lenny, Marathon Man, All the President's Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie, Rain Man, Hook, and Wag the Dog. He made his directorial debut in 2012, with Quartet.
In 2016, he won the International Emmy Award for Best Actor for his work on Roald Dahl's Esio Trot.Everybody's Talkin'
"Everybody’s Talkin'" is a song written and recorded by singer-songwriter Fred Neil in 1966. A version of the song performed by Harry Nilsson became a hit in 1969, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning a Grammy Award after it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy. The song, which describes the singer's desire to retreat from other people to the ocean, is among the most famous works of both artists, and has been covered by many other notable performers. The song later appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump and is also on the film's soundtrack album. It also appeared in the comedy film Borat, on The Hangover Part III soundtrack, in the English television show Black Books, the action comedy film Crank, and in the Only Fools and Horses episode "The Jolly Boys Outing".Hugh A. Robertson
Hugh A. Robertson (May 28, 1932 – January 10, 1988) was an African-American film director and editor, born in Brooklyn, of Jamaican parents. While Robertson was credited as an editor for only three films, Midnight Cowboy (directed by John Schlesinger-1969) earned him the BAFTA Award for Best Editing and a nomination for the Academy Award for Film Editing, making him the first African American person to be nominated for an Oscar in the editing category.
Robertson subsequently edited Gordon Parks' film Shaft (1971), which was his last credit as a film editor. By this time Robertson had turned to directing. In addition to television programs and documentaries, he directed the feature Melinda (1972). He spent most of his remaining life in Trinidad and Tobago. There he produced and directed the film Bim (1975) and ran a filmmaking school. He returned to the United States in 1986.Jerome Hellman
Jerome Hellman (born September 4, 1928) is an American film producer. He is best known for being the 42nd recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture for Midnight Cowboy (1969). His 1978 film Coming Home was nominated for the same award.Jim Clark (film editor)
Jim Clark (24 May 1931 – 25 February 2016) was a British film editor with more than forty feature film credits from 1956–2008. Clark has also directed eight features and short films. Among his most recognized films are Midnight Cowboy (as creative consultant-1969), Marathon Man (1976), The Killing Fields (1984), and Vera Drake (2004). In 2011, Clark published Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing, which is a memoir of his career.John Schlesinger
John Richard Schlesinger (; 16 February 1926 – 25 July 2003) was an English film and stage director, and actor. He won an Academy Award for Best Director for Midnight Cowboy, and was nominated for two other films (Darling and Sunday Bloody Sunday).John and Mary (film)
John and Mary is a 1969 American romantic drama film directed by Peter Yates, directly following the success of his film Bullitt. It stars Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow in the title roles, directly following their success in Midnight Cowboy and Rosemary's Baby, respectively. The screenplay was adapted by John Mortimer from the Mervyn Jones novel.
It was released theatrically in North America on December 14, 1969. It received an R rating upon its original release, which was later downgraded to a PG rating.Jon Voight
Jonathan Vincent Voight (; born December 29, 1938) is an American actor. He is the winner of one Academy Award, having been nominated for four. He has also won four Golden Globe Awards and has so far been nominated for eleven. He is the father of actress Angelina Jolie and actor James Haven.
Voight came to prominence in the late 1960s with his Oscar-nominated performance as Joe Buck, a would-be gigolo in Midnight Cowboy (1969). During the 1970s, he became a Hollywood star with his portrayals of a businessman mixed up with murder in Deliverance (1972); a paraplegic Vietnam veteran in Coming Home (1978), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor; and a penniless ex-boxing champion in the remake of The Champ (1979).
His output became sparse during the 1980s and early 1990s, although he won the Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his iconic performance as the ruthless bank robber Oscar "Manny" Manheim in Runaway Train (1985). Voight made a comeback in Hollywood during the mid-1990s, starring in Michael Mann's crime epic Heat (1995) opposite Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. He portrayed Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible (1996), a corrupt NSA agent in Enemy of the State (1998), and the unscrupulous attorney Leo F. Drummond in Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker (1997), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Voight gave critically acclaimed biographical performances during the 2000s, appearing as legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell in Ali (2001) for which his supporting performance was nominated for the Academy Award, the Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award, and also as Nazi officer Jürgen Stroop in Uprising (2001), as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor (2001) and as Pope John Paul II in the eponymous miniseries (2005). Voight also appears in Showtime's Ray Donovan TV series, now in its sixth season as Mickey Donovan, a role that brought him newfound critical and audience acclaim and his fourth Golden Globe win in 2014.Midnight Cowboy (novel)
Midnight Cowboy is a 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy that chronicles the naïve Texan Joe Buck's odyssey from Texas to New York City, where he plans on realizing his dream of becoming a male prostitute servicing rich women.Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head (Johnny Mathis album)
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head is an album by American pop singer Johnny Mathis that was released on February 25, 1970, by Columbia Records and included several covers of chart hits from the previous year along with 1964's "Watch What Happens" and the 1966 tunes "Alfie" and "A Man and a Woman".
The album's producer, Jack Gold, added lyrics to the instrumental theme from "Midnight Cowboy", and it became the first song from the album to be released as a single. While it did manage to reach number 20 on Billboard magazine's Easy Listening chart during the five weeks it spent there that began in the issue dated November 15, 1969, an instrumental version by Ferrante and Teicher had debuted there just two weeks earlier and surpassed the Mathis showing by reaching number two in addition to peaking at number 10 on the magazine's Hot 100. "Odds and Ends" was the second single from this album and had its first appearance on the Easy Listening chart in the March 21, 1970, issue, beginning a three-week run that took the song to number 30. The album itself started a run of 26 weeks on their Top LP's chart just a few issues later and got as high as number 38.Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head was released for the first time on compact disc in 1995 as one of two albums on one CD, the other LP being the 1971 Mathis title Love Story.Red Eye Radio
Red Eye Radio is a talk radio program currently hosted by Eric Harley and Gary McNamara. The program is syndicated nationwide by Westwood One and originates from WBAP in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The show traces its history through several predecessors, beginning with Bill Mack's overnight truck show in 1969.Sylvia Miles
Sylvia Miles (born September 9, 1924) is an American film, stage, and television actress. She was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performances in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975).Waldo Salt
Waldo Miller Salt (October 18, 1914 – March 7, 1987) was an American screenwriter, winner of Academy Awards for both Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home.Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
The Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the three screenwriting Writers Guild of America Awards, focused specifically for film. The Writers Guild of America began making the distinction between an original screenplay and an adapted screenplay in 1970, when Waldo Salt, screenwriter for Midnight Cowboy, won for "Best Adapted Drama" and Arnold Schulman won "Best Adapted Comedy" for his screenplay of Goodbye, Columbus. Separate awards for dramas and comedies continued until 1985.