Tonight: Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, the only movie to win an “X” rating for its adult content and win an Oscar for Best Picture.
After the spectacular success of The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman declined several similar parts in other films. What he wanted was something completely different. He certainly found it in the role of Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, the street hustler in Midnight Cowboy.
Hoffman’s willingness to accept such a role—a supporting one at that—is reflected throughout his remarkable career, which includes films such as Tootsie.
For his part, Jon Voight had appeared on Broadway in The Sound of Music and a few forgettable films (Hour of the Gun, Fearless Frank, Out of It)
But he caused a sensation as Joe Buck, a restless, frustrated, dishwasher in a small Texas town, who hoped to find success and happiness in the big city.
No one has ever captured the mean streets of the Big Apple more effectively than British film director John Schlesinger.
His previous films—Billy Liar (1963), Darling (1965) and Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)—had won Schlesinger an international reputation.
In fact, Darling had won an Oscar for Julie Christie and a Best Director award from the New York film critics.
But Midnight Cowboy—made in New York, Texas and Florida—was a departure for an Oxford graduate who learned his trade as a director for BBC-TV.
He would follow this film with Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1972), The Day of the Locust (1975) and The Marathon Man with Hoffman in 1976.
Because of the dark and depressing nature of the film, few expected Midnight Cowboy to be a commercial success.
They were mistaken.
The “X” rating virtually assured a limited release, but the critical and public response to the film was so overwhelming that the Production Code took another look and eventually changed the rating to an “R.”
Voight’s relationship to Hoffman in the latter portion of the film is reminiscent of George and Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, when dreams of escaping from New York to the sunny climate of Miami are similar to the dreams of owning their own place where Lenny can raise rabbits.
This tale of dreams unfulfilled has universal appeal.
It is the dark side of the American Dream.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Both Hoffman and Voight were nominated for Best Actor, but lost to John Wayne for True Grit. Sylvia Miles was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but she lost out to Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower.
No Academy attention was paid to the film’s incredible musical score, which includes the jazz harmonica of Jean “Toots” Thielemans and the title theme “Everybody’s Talking,” sung by Harry Nilsson.
The film and the music are now cult classics.
So without further adieu, from 1969, the unforgettable—Midnight Cowboy.