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Midnight Cowboy (1969, Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman)



It’s rare indeed for one film to see two leads nominated for the same Oscar, but both Voight, a relative newcomer to the screen, and Hoffman, in only his second major role after The Graduate, were both up for Best Actor in Midnight Cowboy. Neither won, but Schlesinger and scriptwriter Salt both picked up Oscars, as did the film for Best Picture.

Voight plays Joe Buck, a Texan rube tired of washing dishes in a small-town diner who reckons he can make it as a stud in New York, servicing bored women for big bucks. But on arrival, he finds his cowboy act doesn’t work and he’s soon the one being hustled by Enrico Salvatore Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), better known as Ratso, a crippled streetwise down-and-out. The pair form an unlikely relationship, with Ratso grooming Buck as a gay hustler, but both dream of Florida, where Ratso’s ill-health will be cured and Buck will be able to score with the ladies. After ending up in the gutter, Buck explodes, beating and robbing a male client for the pair’s bus fare. But as they pass the state line, only one of them is alive to see the palm trees…

Schlesinger uses the pair as opposites, using Buck’s naïve country character as the counter to Ratso’s big city hustler and so offering two views of the Big Apple’s dark side. But at the same time, he allows their characters to develop, with Buck’s self-dignity slowly being stripped away layer-by-layer while Ratso, as he becomes sicker, relies more and more on his increasingly disillusioned ‘partner’. Despite Midnight Cowboy being rooted in the ’60s, it still resonates today thanks to two towering performances.

production details
USA | 113 minutes | 1968

Director: John Schlesinger
Writer: Waldo Salt, from James Leo Herlihy’s novel

Dustin Hoffman as Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzo
Jon Voight as Joe Buck
Sylvia Miles as Cass
Brenda Vaccaro as Shirley
Mary Boylan as Old Lady in Subway
Ruth White as Sally Buck
Bill Walters as St. Bernard Owner
John McGiver as Mr. O’Daniel
Randall Carver as Rapist in Flashback
Pat Ast as Party Guest
Barnard Hughes as Towny
Jennifer Salt as Annie
Georgann Johnson as Rich Lady
Bob Balaban as The Young Student
M. Emmet Walsh as Bus Passenger
Anthony Holland as TV Bishop
Marlene Clark as Girl at Party
Viva as Gretel McAlbertson
Paul Benjamin as Bartender
Gilman Rankin as Woodsy Niles
T. Tom Marlow as Little Joe
George Eppersen as Ralph
Jan Tice as Freaked-Out Lady
Al Scott as Cafeteria Manager
Linda Davis as Mother on the Bus
Arlene Reeder as The Old Lady
Jonathan Kramer as Jackie
Arthur Anderson as Hotel Clerk
Tina Scala as Laundromat Lady
Alma Felix as Laundromat Lady
Richard Clarke as Escort Service Man
Ann Thomas as The Frantic Lady
Paul Rossilli as Hansel McAlbertson
Ultra Violet as The Party
Taylor Mead as The Party
Paul Morrissey as The Party
Paul Jabara as The Party
International Velvet as The Party
Cecelia Lipson as The Party
Joan Murphy as The Waitress
Al Stetson as Bus Driver
Robert Dahdah as Bus Passenger
Trent Gough as Man at Lunch Counter
Barbara Maggio as Gina
Jay Morran as Pimp
Renee Semes as Hippie in Coffee Shop
Jeffrey Walker as Hippie #3
Waldo Salt as Joe Pyne on TV Show
Paul Jasmin as The Party (uncredited)