Midnight Cowboy, Directed by John Schlesinger
United Artists, May 25, 1969 (US)
Screenplay: Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes, Ruth White, Jennifer Salt, Gilman Rankin, Gary Owens, and T. Tom Marlow
Sally Buck (Ruth White): You look real nice, lover boy, real nice. Make your old grandma proud. You’re gonna be the best looking cowboy in the whole damn parade.
A good friend is hard to find. Believe me, I’ve tried. A friend who will pull your face out of the gutter, lift you up when you’re down. Someone to drag your sick and ugly head out of the toilet, Put all the broken pieces back together, like shiny colored glass, like shattered bourbon bottles thrown across a lonely Tennessee stage. We all wait in the dark, “waiting for that click.” The click that never comes. Thank god it’s not a gun. But we still wait, all dressed-up and pretty, desperate for the Gentlemen Caller, the beautiful one. The one who never calls. Come on, baby. Call. We sip Mint Tulips, Gimlets, and sticky Manhattans beneath the long and cold evening shadows. We dance under the dead radios. The streetcars and lonely bars. All the pretty whores on 7th Avenue. Put on your spangles. Your sequins. Your bright bonnets and buckles. See how they shine. No … no good friends let you down. No matter how crippled or dirty you are. They hold you tight. They wipe away the tears. They tell you it’s OK, it’s alright, things will get better, just you wait and see! They whisper to you and hold you. They take you to warm and beautiful places, places far, far away.
Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman): Here I am, goin’ to Florida, my leg hurts, my butt hurts, my chest hurts, my face hurts, and like that ain’t enough, I gotta pee all over myself.
[Joe Buck (Jon Voight) laughs]
Rizzo: That’s funny? I’m fallin’ apart here!
Joe: It’s just - Know what happened? You just took a little rest stop that wasn’t on the schedule!
This film is about probably the only thing worthwhile. Friends. Broken friends. Beaten friends. Friends thrown out. Friends rejected. The only friends. The only ones who ultimately have nothing but each other. Family and lovers let you down. Friends always pick you up. This was one of the few films my father ever took my mother to see (I think The Godfather was the other one). I remember playing on their bedroom floor as they got dressed to go. Mom said it was a “dirty” movie. Dad had no clue what it was about but he knew it promised sex. I thought the film sounded exotic. Mysterious. Who were these cowboys? Why did they roam at midnight? Were they like the black plastic cowboys in my room? TV cowboys? Like our neighbor cowboys who did barrel racing and horse shows? Why were they so dirty?
Joe Buck: Whoopee-tee-yi-yo. Get along little doggies. It’s your misfortune and none of my own.
Later I learned it all. Boy how I learned. The true secret of cowboys. The world was a tough and miserable place. A wasteland of dead midnights. It was chock full of the destitute, the defeated. Makers and takers. Hustlers and losers. The lucky. The lonely. Shivering kids, half-naked and looking for kicks in the big city. New York City! Lonely writers looking for jobs. Lonely artists. Lonely waiters. Lonely wives looking for love. For sex. A person to talk to. Anything to make them forget their bright and empty lives. There were rats under the beds. Roaches under the sink. No heat. No hope. No help except for a lucky buck or trick or fix in Washington Park. The Upper Eastside. Upper Westside. Northside. Southside. Any road was hell’s kitchen so why not stay put? It’s not easy singing in your underwear on Times Square. Not easy at all. But keep on smiling. It’ll start snowing soon.
This film makes you cry just thinking about it. It’s brutal but it’s real. So real in fact there’s a whole clan of Warhol Factory people who were shot in a now infamous silver party scene. So real the film was originally rated X—more like X marks the dark spot of this stinking hole we call humanity, maybe—But it’s Voight and Hoffman who really pull the film off. Joe and Ratso. Their sad and fucked up friendship. Two hustlers going nowhere who have nothing but each other. The cold and misery of their world. The hell of what makes up their lives. And when they leave—and dammit they will—when they finally decide to ditch this great and magnificent garbage bowl, they are sure to go far. Fred Neil could not have put it more right and that’s why they used his song. Go to where the flavor is. Through the sleet and pouring rain. Good morning sunshine. Bank off the northeast wind cause a mighty wind is gonna blow. Hold on to me quick, dear friend, Hold on tight. We’ll get there if you can just hold on. Because what are friends for?
Rizzo: I’m walking here! I’m walking here!