Midnight Cowboy Movie Review: I Only Get Car Sick on Boats

John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) is based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy and adapted by Waldo Salt. In it, Joe Buck (Jon Voigt in his first film role) has a simple plan: dress like a cowboy, leave his home in Texas for New York City, and convince the rich socialites there to have sex with him for money. During his trip, Joe Buck meets all types of characters, the most interesting of whom is Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

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Joe Buck genuinely believes he is going to walk into town and women will throw money at him. During his first sexual encounter in New York City, he instead ends up giving money to the woman because she has been humiliated by the affair and needs cab money. Joe meets Ratso, who claims he can get Joe in with a pimp, but the man turns out to be a crazy religious man here to save Joe from a life of debauchery. Later, once Joe forgives Ratso and sees him as his only friend, Joe and Ratso are invited to a very Warhol-esque party where Joe hooks up with a woman who wants to know what it is like to pay for sex. Ratso, on the other hand, always looking toward survival, fills his pockets with food and objects he can hock.

Joe has a very hard time making friends and, since Ratso is so accommodating, the two become very close. Ratso wants Joe to call him Rico, but Joe is too busy keeping them alive to keep names straight. Ratso has a bad cough, is getting sicker all the time, and Joe Buck is finally convinced to take him to Florida. Once again there is a bus trip, this time instead of hoping for high times ahead, Joe Buck looks more like a man about to lose his best friend.

The movie is filled with beautiful flashbacks that have the flavor of a thriller or a horror film. We are treated to many of Joe Buck’s flashbacks where we learn he was raised by his grandmother, Sally Buck, and a long line of men who were in and out of their lives. We also learn that Joe Buck was dating a school girl, Annie, but the two of them were raped by a local group of tough boys. Annie is mentally disturbed from the incident and accidentally blames Joe Buck, saying, “He was the only one.” More enjoyable are Ratso’s flash-forwards where he is bombarded by the sun on the beaches of Miami, Florida. Ratso is always looking to a future that’s coming up roses, where people are kind enough to stop calling him Ratso and finally call him Rico.

This is a story in which everybody dreams and has grandiose plans for the future. Ratso wants a future with sunshine, and food, and a good doctor or two. Joe wants what he has always wanted, to be loved by a good woman: a strong woman just for Joe Buck.

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Greg Hammond

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