In celebration of the Oscars® tonight, I decided to check out the movie that won Best Picture the year I was born. This turned out to be Oliver!, which seems to have won by mistake.
So instead I watched the movie that won Best Picture the year after I was born:
If you’re my age—exactly my age, plus or minus a year—it is fascinating to see NYC back in the day. There’s litter in the subway cars. Times Square is unrecognizable. People are smoking—in bars, in diners, in buses. And $20 was considered a nice chunk of change. The only recognizable thing is Ron Lundy’s voice on Jon Voight’s transistor radio: “Helllo luv!”
Midnight Cowboy is famous for being the only X-rated film to win Best Picture. (It was subsequently labeled R, with no edits made.) But though it’s supposedly about the cold, cruel world of New York, it’s actually a very touching buddy movie.
Long story short: Joe Buck (Voight) is a hayseed from Texas who comes to New York to make his fortune as a gigolo, on the theory that NYC is full of rich middle-aged women and nothing but “tutti fruttis” to serve them. Almost immediately upon arrival, he gets fleeced by his first “Jane”—a pro herself—who acts outraged when he asks her for money. Nursing his recent fleecing over a drink, he meets a slick but sickly local, Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who fleeces him further by telling him that classy ladies don’t cruise 42nd street for sex. For a small fee, he can set him up with “management.” Instead of bringing him to a pimp, however, Ratso brings him to a psycho preacher—and is long gone by the time our big, dumb hero figures it out.
Eventually Joe finds Ratso, but though Ratso is partially responsible for his straitened circumstances, he doesn’t throttle him. Ratso then invites Joe to stay at his apartment (“The X on the windows means the landlord can’t collect rent, which is a convenience, on account of it’s condemned.”) They begin to navigate the streets as a team, stealing a little here and there, and making further attempts to tempt NYC’s females with Joe’s charm. But just when things are starting to pick up on the gigolo front, Ratso’s health takes a turn for the worse. Joe, who despite rough treatment from all and sundry hasn’t hurt a flea up to this moment, throttles a would-be male customer to get some money to help Ratso to Florida.
The movie is made of moments. There are flashbacks of Joe’s upbringing (which range from troubling to alarming to horrifying). There are funny buddy moments (Ratso pretends to help a pregnant lady at a laundromat while sneaking Joe’s clothes in her washing machine). There are scenes from an Andy Warhol-esque party, where Ratso stuffs food in his pockets:
Partygoer: Gee, well, you know, it’s free. You don’t have to steal it.
Ratso: Well, if it’s free, then I ain’t stealin’.
But at the end, it’s a buddy flick—a pure and simple X-rated buddy flick, well done, with outstanding performances. After I watched it I checked some more recent reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and found myself hissing at the bad ones. “Outrageously overrated”?! Not. A. Bit.
InfieldRules rating system: Not yet in effect. But this one is a winner.