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Film / Midnight Cowboy

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"HEY! I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!"

A 1969 film adapted from the novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

Joe Buck (Voight) is a dishwasher in a rural Texas diner. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. One day, he decides to dress like a rodeo cowboy and move to New York City, hoping to prostitute himself to wealthy women. He burns through his savings very quickly, unable to hustle, and is taken in by Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman), a small-time con man with a bad leg and tuberculosis. They scrape by as best they can, hoping to escape to Florida one day...

The movie garnered quite a bit of controversy upon its release, being given an "X" rating by the MPAA—this being when the new "X" rating was meant to signify any kind of film for adults only and was not yet associated with porn (it was reduced to an "R" the following year anyway). However, it won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director and for Waldo Salt's adapted screenplay, and is now seen as one of the defining movies of its era.


"HEY! I'm tropin' here!"

  • Bait-and-Switch: Ratso takes $20 from Joe to set him up with a man named O'Daniel, who (he claims) "operates the biggest stable in town". On meeting him, O'Daniel tells Joe, "I'm gonna use you. I'm gonna run you ragged." Then Joe discovers that the guy runs a street-preaching operation.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: New York in 1969 looking filthy and dirty and covered with garbage—and of course Joe is associating with various dirtbags and lowlifes of the sort that live in the Big Rotten Apple. Ratso lives in a disgusting condemned building, and dreams of escaping to Florida.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Ratso (5'5") and Joe Buck (6'3").
  • Camp Gay: Jackie, the swishy guy who flirts with Joe (and spars with Rizzo) at the bar.
  • Coolest Club Ever: The Warholesque invitation-only party Joe and Rizzo attend. (Several of Warhol's "superstars" appear as extras.)
  • Advertisement:
  • Country Mouse: Both played straight and subverted with Joe.
  • Creator Cameo: Waldo Salt, who wrote the screenplay for the film, is briefly seen as a TV talk-show host.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Joe's approach to his new vocation is... optimistic, to say the least. Sure, he's a good looking guy, but he really doesn't seem to have had a plan in place. He's essentially cold-calling wealthy-looking women on the street, which predictably fails most of the time, as they seem him as a bumpkin fool. Soon his money is completely gone and he's yet to get a single dime.
  • Dies Wide Open: Poor Ratso, dying of TB on the bus, just as they're finally on their way to Florida.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Played to the hilt with Rizzo.
  • Distracted from Death: Probably the most iconic cinematic example. Joe talks about getting a real job on Miami, only to realize that Rizzo has died mid-conversation.
  • Downer Ending: Joe and Rizzo take a bus from New York to Miami to fulfill Rizzo's dream of living there. Not far outside Miami, Joe realizes that Rizzo has quietly died in the seat next to him. The movie ends with Joe hugging his dead friend and shedding Manly Tears as the bus continues towards Miami.
  • Dumb Blonde: Joe's blond and not too bright.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Rizzo strongly dislikes being called "Ratso" and twice asks Joe to call him Rico instead.
  • Epic Fail: Joe Buck's gigolo career is ultimately a flop and his time in New York a disaster, as he comes to admit at the end of the movie. Plus he's lost his innocence and probably the only real friend he's ever had.
  • Everybody Must Get Stoned: The underground party.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The film begins with a white screen and the traditional movie Western sounds of cowboys and Indians fighting. Then the camera pulls back to reveal the blank screen of an empty Drive-In Theater.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on a 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihey.
  • Gay Cowboy: Much to Joe's embarrassment, his studly cowboy persona utterly fails to win over any New York women, and only attracts men. Rizzo even flat-out tells him that only gay men like cowboys, but Joe still insists on the outfit because it makes him feel good.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rizzo and Joe. Though not without a fair bit of Ho Yay, as Rizzo has a fantasy dream sequence of the two of them running along a sunny beach together.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Rizzo and Joe soon establish a basically spousal relationship, with Rizzo cutting Joe's hair and cooking for him. If that isn't overt enough, Rizzo imagines running down the beach and walking down the street with a shirtless Joe in Florida.
    Shirley: Don't tell me you two are a couple!
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Joe is a rare male example.
  • Imagine Spot: Rizzo pictures himself and Joe living the good life in Florida.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Rizzo is shown with a persistent cough during his very first scene with Joe. It is, of course, tuberculosis, which eventually kills him.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: While riding the cross-country bus at night, Joe flashes back to various scenes of his childhood spent in the company of his grandmother and her various lovers (or johns), accompanied by his grandmother singing "Hush, Little Baby" over the soundtrack.
  • Jerkass: Rizzo, a good deal of the time, like when he tricks Joe out of $20 by promising to set him up with a pimp.
    • Note that $20 is about $135 in 2020 money.
  • Leitmotif: ''Everybody's Talkin'", used for Joe Buck.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Joe experiences this with Shirley.
  • Mind Screw: The flashbacks to Joe Buck's past in Texas make a lot more sense if you've read the book, where the situations are described in depth.
  • Naked in Mink: Shirley lounges around in her apartment in nothing but a fur coat when playing scribbage with a naked Joe. Then she keeps the coat on for sex.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Rizzo and Joe go to a kookie hippie party filled with hippies in colorful clothes and wild hair, who smoke dope and pop pills and watch weird movies.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In the "I'm walkin' here" scene. Hoffman yells it in his real accent, before resuming his character's accent. He also stops limping briefly, despite his character having a crippled leg.
    • According to Hoffman, the line was his natural reaction when a car unexpectedly ran a red light and nearly hit him while crossing the street; Hoffman said the close call prompted him to ad-lib the line in genuine surprise, but that he resumed character thereafter in an effort not to ruin the take.
  • One Head Taller: Rizzo and Joe Buck. It's a notable visual contrast as runty little Rizzo is definitely the dominant in the relationship with tall, strapping Joe.
  • Please Wake Up:
    Joe: When we get to Miami, what we'll do is get some sort of job, you know. Cause hell, I ain't no kind of hustler. I mean, there must be an easier way of makin' a living than that. Some sort of outdoors work. Whaddya think? Yeah, that's what I'll do. OK Rico? Rico? Rico? Hey, Rico? Rico?
  • Promiscuity After Rape: Heavily implied with Joe.
  • Rape as Drama: The flashbacks of "Crazy Annie" and Joe Buck getting gang raped.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Rizzo tells Joe that the cowboy duds are ridiculous and aren't doing him any favors. He says it partially to hurt Joe, but also to improve Joe's prospects as a gigolo.
  • Red Light District: 42nd Street, which apparently has changed quite a bit since that movie.
  • Shout-Out: Joe Buck keeps a poster of Paul Newman as Hud in his Times Square hotel room.
    • During the opening credits Joe walks past a defunct movie theater advertising the John Wayne flick The Alamo on its dilapidated marquee, and Joe and Rizzo share a discussion about Wayne later in the film.
  • Signature Line: "I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!"
  • Slippery Soap: Dropped by Joe in the very first scene.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Subverted. Joe Buck and Shirley smoke out of frustration, after he is hit with erectile dysfunction.
  • Something Else Also Rises:
    • Joe's climax during sex with Cass is represented by coins spurting out of a slot machine.
    • Joe's climax when he's getting a blowjob from a man in a movie theater is represented by a clasp popping loose and a stage separating from a rocket in a sci-fi movie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Joe Buck sure loves handing out money to people who ask.
  • Welcome to the Big City: Joe leaves his podunk Texas town for New York City, only to find the big city filthy, crime-ridden, filled with scummy lowlifes. On his first day out and about in New York
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: A meta example. The MPAA did originally give it an R rating, but United Artists preferred to exploit its controversial premise and initially released it with a self-applied X rating. (As such, this is the only X-rated picture to ever have Transamerica references in its UA logo.) They did accept the original R rating after a couple of years, though.


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