Here’s yet another in my “I can’t believe I haven’t seen this yet” list. Most people know Midnight Cowboy as the only X-rated film to win Best Picture, and I included myself in that category. I knew basically nothing about this film, other than that factoid and the famous “I’m walkin’ here!” scene, so I went into it without very many expectations. Needless to say, the film that I just watched did not care in the slightest if I had any expectations about it; it was far too concerned with doing its own thing to worry about what others thought of it. Such a film may indeed be worthy of the limited-time X rating, but don’t tell the film that; it wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about it anyway.
Jon Voight is Joe Buck, a down-home Texas boy with his sights set on making it in New York City. Not in the usual way, though; Joe aspires to be a male prostitute for the rich and beautiful clientèle in the city. Naturally, his naiveté comes into play once he arrives, culminating in his being locked out of his apartment and hoodwinked out of 20 bucks by a street-wise cripple named “Ratso” Rizzo, played by an exceptionally weaselly Dustin Hoffman. After tables turn, the two become friends, squatting in a foreclosed building and trying to make Joe the hottest new thing in town. I said I went into the film not expecting anything, which meant I was somewhat blindsided by what the film did have to offer, which was quite a lot. The direction by John Schlesinger was exceptional; the film is told to us simultaneously with present-day scenes as well as a hallucinatory haze of flashback images detailing Joe’s past and aspirations, and it amazingly works really well, mostly thanks to the film’s superb editing. The script was also very well done, and rightfully won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. But the major selling point is the two leads, who both give easily career best, as well as my personal favorite, performances; Voight’s southern drawl and mild dim-wittedness make him an easy target for the native New Yorkers, and Hoffman’s sickly crippled con man (with a deliciously nasally voice) is a constant highlight.
This was a solid, solid picture all around; indeed, this may very well be the quintessential film of the 1960s, and is almost certainly one of the best endcaps to the decade. What I loved best about it was that, even though I only first saw it just now, 45 years after it was made, I don’t think it has aged a day. Even the film’s emblematic use of the “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me” song is so well-utilized that it never once seems far too indicative of the decade the film was made in; an observation I cannot fairly make toward many of the films of the 1980s, for instance. I can think of so many reasons why you should see this one (if you haven’t yet), and really very few why you shouldn’t, and even those that I could come up with would probably just be cherry picking excuses that only apply to individual sub-groups of people. To the masses, the general moviegoing populace; yes, you should absolutely see this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10