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Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American drama film based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. It was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Dustin Hoffman and then-newcomer Jon Voight in the title role. Notable smaller roles are filled by Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, and Barnard Hughes, and the film also features an uncredited cameo by M. Emmet Walsh.

The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Plot

The film follows the story of a young Texanmarker named Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who works as a dishwasher in a diner. As the film opens, Joe dresses himself like a rodeo cowboy, packs a suitcase, and quits his job. He heads to New York Citymarker in the hope of leading the life of a kept man.

Joe's naivete becomes evident as quickly as his cash disappears upon his arrival in New York. He is unsuccessful in his attempts to be hired as a stud for wealthy women. When finally successful in bedding a middle-aged New Yorker (Sylvia Miles), Joe's attempt to "talk business" results in the woman breaking down in tears and Joe giving her $20 instead. Joe meets the crippled Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a third-rate con man who easily tricks Joe out of twenty dollars by offering to introduce him to a well-known pimp, who instead turns out to be a religious fanatic (John McGiver). Joe flees the scene in pursuit of Ratso, but he is long gone.

As Joe's money quickly runs out, he is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay the bill. He finally attempts to make money by having sex with another man, but even this plan goes awry when the teenager reveals that he doesn't have any money. The next day, Joe spots an unsuspecting Rizzo at a diner. He angrily shakes Ratso down for every penny he has — all sixty-four of them — but Ratso surprisingly offers to help Joe, by sharing his place, an apartment in a condemned building. Joe reluctantly accepts the offer, and they begin a business relationship, helping each other pickpocket, steal and further attempt to get Joe hired as a stud. They are both completely alone without each other, and a genuine bond develops between the two men. Ratso had a cough when the two first met during the summer, and as the story progresses into winter, his health steadily worsens.
Joe and Enrico
The events of Joe's early life are told through flashbacks interspersed throughout the film. He had been to church and baptized as a boy, but had only frightening memories of the experience, and he equated religion with disappointment. The only two people Joe loved were his grandmother Sally, and his onetime girlfriend Crazy Annie. His grandmother raised Joe after his mother abandoned him, but often left him alone to go off with beaux. (One of them, a wrangler named Woodsy Niles, was Joe's only father figure.) Sally Buck died while Joe was away serving in the Army. Annie had been a promiscuous girl who changed her ways after meeting Joe. This didn't sit well with the men of their hometown. After the two were caught together having sex in a car, a mob raped them both; Annie was later sent to a mental institution. She remains a constant presence in Joe's mind.

Ratso's story comes mostly through the things he tells Joe. His father was an illiterate shoeshiner who worked deep in a subway station, developed a bad back, and "coughed his lungs out breathin' in that wax every day!" Ratso learned shining from his father, but refuses to follow (such as he could, after polio crippled one leg) in the old man's footsteps.

At one point, an odd-looking couple approach Joe and Ratso in a diner and hand Joe a flyer inviting him to a party. They enter into a Warhol-esque party scene (with Warhol superstars Viva, Ultra Violet and others in cameo appearances). The naive Joe smokes most of a joint thinking it's a cigarette, then takes a pill offered to him and begins to hallucinate. He leaves the party with a socialite (Brenda Vaccaro), who agrees to pay him $20 for spending the night with her. Ratso falls down a flight of stairs as they are leaving, but insists he is fine. Joe and the socialite attempt to have sex, but he suffers from temporary impotence. They play a word game together in which Joe reveals his limited academic prowess. She teasingly suggests that Joe may be gay, and that does the trick: he is suddenly able to perform, and the two have lively, aggressive sex. In the morning, the socialite sets up a friend of hers to be Joe's next customer, and it appears his career as a gigolo is on its way.

When Joe returns home later, Ratso is in bed, sweating and feverish, and admits to Joe that he is unable to walk. Joe wants to take Ratso to a doctor, but Ratso adamantly refuses. He wants to leave New York for Miamimarker; this has been his goal the whole time. A frightened Joe is determined to take care of his friend, and leaves the apartment to scrounge some money. He picks up an older male customer (Barnard Hughes), but the man tries to send him away at the last minute out of guilt. Joe's desperation boils over when the man gives him a religious medallion instead of cash. He beats and robs the man, stuffing the telephone receiver into his mouth when he thinks the man is calling the hotel front desk for help.

With the money, Joe buys two bus tickets to Florida. During the long journey Ratso's already serious physical condition deteriorates further. During a rest stop, Joe touchingly buys bright new clothing for Ratso and himself. He throws away his cowboy outfit, and admits "I ain't no kinda hustler." As they reach Florida and near Miami, Joe talks about plans to get a regular job, only to ultimately realize that Ratso has died beside him. After Joe informs the bus driver, the driver tells him that there is nothing else to do, but continue on to Miami. The film ends with Joe seated with his arm around his dead friend, numbly staring out the bus window as row after row of palm trees go by.

Cast



Production

The opening scenes were filmed in Big Spring, Texasmarker.

Before Dustin Hoffman auditioned for this film, he knew that his all-American image could easily cost him the job. To prove he could do it, he asked the auditioning film executive to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan, and in the meantime, dressed himself in filthy rags. The executive arrived at the appointed corner and waited, barely noticing the beggar less than ten feet away who was accosting people for spare change. At last, the beggar walked up to him and revealed his true identity.

Despite his portrayal of Joe Buck, a character hopelessly out of his element in New York, Jon Voight is ironically a native New Yorker, hailing from Yonkersmarker. Dustin Hoffman, who played a grizzled veteran of New York's streets, is actually from Los Angelesmarker.

The line "I'm walkin' here!", which reached #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. The cab was driven by a hired actor during a scripted take, and production team filmed it to look like an ad-lib. However, Hoffman told it differently on an installment of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. He stated that there were many takes to hit that traffic light just right so they didn't have to pause while walking. That take, the timing was perfect and the cab came out of nowhere and nearly hit them. Hoffman wanted to say "We're filming a movie here!" but he decided to not ruin the take.

Schlesinger chose the song "Everybody's Talkin'" (written by Fred Neil and performed by Harry Nilsson) as its theme, and the song underscores the entire first act of the film. (Other songs considered for the film included Nilsson's own "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" and Randy Newman's "Cowboy".) The song "He Quit Me" was also on the soundtrack; it was written by Warren Zevon, who also included it (as "She Quit Me") on his debut album Wanted Dead or Alive. This film was Adam Holender's first cinematography assignment; he was recommended to Schlesinger by Holender's childhood friend, filmmaker Roman Polanski.

Awards and honors

The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay; it is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar in any category, and one of two X-rated films to be nominated for an Oscar (the other being Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange). Coincidentally, the previous year had seen the sole G-rated Best Picture winner, Oliver!. Both Hoffman and Voight were nominated for Best Actor awards and Sylvia Miles was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, in what is one of the shortest performances ever nominated (clocking in under four minutes of screen-time).

The film won six BAFTA Awards.

John Barry, who supervised the music and composed the score for the film, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. "Everybody's Talkin'" also won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for Harry Nilsson.

In 1994, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congressmarker and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

American Film Institute recognition

Legacy

For Hoffman, the role enabled him to avoid any typecasting due to his previous role in The Graduate and started his career as an actor of considerable dramatic range.

Voight went on to play in Catch-22, Deliverance, The Odessa File, Conrack, The Champ, and Coming Home.

The final scene with Joe's arms around Rizzo was parodied in the 1994 Seinfeld episode "The Mom & Pop Store" in which George Costanza believes he has purchased the actor Jon Voight's car (when in fact it's from a dentist named John Voight). George at one point sings part of "Everybody's talkin' at me... I don't hear a word they're sayin'...", improvising the line, "Just drivin' around in Jon Voight's car." The final scene of the episode finds Jerry and Kramer on the back seat of a city bus: Jerry is the Joe Buck character comforting Kramer, who is suffering from a recurring bloody nose. The song "Everybody's Talkin'" is played during the final closing camera shot and fade out.

The film Miss Congeniality parodies the famous "I'm walkin' here!" line when Michael Caine's character Victor Melling is teaching Gracie Hart Sandra Bullock how to 'glide' as she walks. They walk across a street and a car almost hits Hart, prompting the response, "I'm gliding here!"

The film Forrest Gump parodies the famous "I'm walking here!" line when Gump pushes Lieutenant Dan's wheelchair across a crowded Manhattan street.

An episode of American Dad! titled "Irregarding Steve" parodies the film, with Roger the alien as the Rizzo character developing a steadily worsening cough after arriving in New York and Steve eventually donning a cowboy outfit similar to Joe's. The episode parodies several important scenes from Midnight Cowboy, including the final scene bus ride.

Michael J. Fox has parodied the film twice. The film Back to the Future 2 has the Fox character (playing Marty McFly's future son, Marty Jr.) coming out of the diner and almost being hit by a car, yelling "I'm walking here!" at the vehicle as it speeds away. In The Hard Way, Fox's character, actor Nick Lang, is driving when the serial killer known as the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) puts a gun to his head and tells him to drive. Falling back onto his actor's training, Lang uses Robert DeNiro's Taxi Driver line, "You talkin' to me? Are you talkin' to me?" and then speeds the car through New York traffic, yelling, "I'm driving here!"

The film Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson contains a scene where Jaguar Paw, along with his other captured friends, are being transported through an area of ongoing deforestation. A tree falls directly on top of them, causing them to scramble out of the way. Their captor yells "I'm walking here!" to the otherwise unaware tree-fellers.

The Futurama episode "Brannigan Begin Again" contains a montage scene based on Midnight Cowboy. After the two characters Zapp Brannigan and Kif (as Joe and Ratso respectively) are discharged from the military, they are trying to survive in the world, including resorting to prostitution.

In an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus entitled School Prizes or: It's a Living!, Mr. Enid Dibney, played by Terry Jones, is a struggling director who claims that his own films, such as if...., 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Rear Window, were stolen from his original ideas. He also claims to have directed his own version of Midnight Cowboy before John Schlesinger released his, starring "the vicar as Ratso Rizzo."

In the Odd Couple TV series, the episode entitled "Take My Furniture Please" (originally aired March 9th, 1973), Felix Unger tells Oscar upon seeing the choices that Oscar picked to redecorate their apartment, "Ratzo Rizzo had a cuter apartment!".

In the video game Grand Theft Auto IV, Vlad is nearly hit by a taxi and he shouts out "Hey! I'm walking here!" during a cutscene.

In the comedy film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a montage of shots of Kazakhstani journalist Borat doing various inappropriate things on the streets of New York City is shown with the song "Everybody's Talkin'" played behind it.

In an episode of Flight of the Conchords in which Bret and Jemaine try to become prostitutes, Jemaine tells Bret to wear a cowboy hat to make himself more appealing to women. Later, Bret says "I'm walking here" after a woman rejects Jemaine.

In an episode of Lost Ana-Lucia accidentally hits Saywer with a car door, prompting the response "Hey, I'm walkin' here!"

In the second episode of Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere, "Everybody's Talking" is played when Paddy goes to an audition for a porn film (believing it to be a heterosexual part, which turns out to be otherwise) dressed as a cowboy. (He's filmed walking in a street staring at women just like Joe Buck)

In Muppet Classic Theater and multiple other Muppet films, one of the characters is named Rizzo the Rat.

References



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