Review - Midnight Cowboy Collector's Edition (DVD-2006)
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Midnight Cowboy collector’s edition (DVD-2006)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski


After appearing previously on video, laserdisc and DVD, a new DVD 2-disc collector’s edition of Midnight Cowboy has now been released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 


Directed by John Schlesinger and released in 1969, the story centers on  Joe Buck, a nave young Texas ‘cowboy’ played by Jon Voight who travels to New York City  dreaming of making a living as a male prostitute servicing rich Madison Avenue women.  As harsh reality causes his dream to collapse, he is befriended by a sleazy con artist known as Ratso Rizzo portrayed by Dustin Hoffmann.  A strong bond of friendship develops between the two enabling them to transcend the nightmare of their existence in New York’s sordid underbelly.


Midnight Cowboy was based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy who had nothing but praise for the film version.  The brilliant screenplay adaptation by Waldo Salt utilized extensive improvisational dialogue from rehearsal sessions with Voight and Hoffman.  The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards.  The Best Picture win, in particular, was remarkable for the X- rated Midnight Cowboy coming as it did from the conservative Motion Picture Academy in the same year that John Wayne won Best Actor for True Grit.  The X-rating had been expected by the filmmakers who considered it appropriate because of Cowboy’s mature subject matter and sexual content.  In 1969, an X-rating meant more of an adult film and was not necessarily identified with pornography.


Flush with Oscar wins, Cowboy was then re-released with the ‘X’ changed to an R-rating --without a single scene or shot having been cut.   Truth be told, Cowboy’s ‘X’ would be an ‘R’ by today’s standards.  Even so, one of the early TV network broadcasts of the film cut out all profanity, adult matter, sex content and references to sex—making the plot of the film all but unintelligible. 


As a film, Midnight Cowboy is outstanding in every department—directing, acting, ensemble cast, sets, art-direction, cinematography, dialogue, story, music, editing, etc.  Even the minor characters stand out including bit parts by Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro, John McGiver and Barnard Hughes.  Jon Voight’s star performance stunned audiences with its earnest innocence at the time and Hoffman’s more showy performance was equally well-received.  Both are bravura and unforgettable—they shine today with undiminished brilliance.


Director Schlesinger, hailing from Britain, did not find the film shoot to be enjoyable. Yet, as an outsider filming his impressions of New York, his cinematic eye perfectly captures details, unique aspects of the City, realism and late 1960’s life.   His use of flashbacks and quick cuts gives the film almost an art-house sensibility and enables the director to suggest plot points that never would have passed the late 1960’s censors.  And if certain characters in the film express self-loathing, they are true to attitudes prevalent at the time.


The new DVD features a crisp film transfer and a three part, informative documentary featuring interviews with Voight, Hoffman, producer Jerome Hellman and others.  Absent are John Schlesinger and Waldo Salt, both of whom have passed on.  Hellman also provides the sole film audio commentary.  Although he manages to convey much of what Schlesinger provided in his own audio commentary for the laserdisc release nearly two decades ago, why that commentary has not been included is a mystery-- as is the absence of the excellent documentary included on a 25th anniversary video release which also featured Schlesinger.  Still, this new DVD is most worthwhile.


Midnight Cowboy is a powerful film about loneliness, friendship and the need for human contact.  The new Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD special edition is a most welcome DVD release of a shattering motion picture classic.



2006 Dennis Kwiatkowski/Celluloid Dreams



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