Midnight Cowboy: Wikis


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Midnight Cowboy

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Jerome Hellman
Written by Waldo Salt (screenplay)
James Leo Herlihy (novel)
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Jon Voight
Sylvia Miles
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Adam Holender
Editing by Hugh A. Robertson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) May 25, 1969 (1969-05-25)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.6 million
Gross revenue $44,785,053

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American drama film based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. It was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Dustin Hoffman and then-newcomer Jon Voight in the title role. Notable smaller roles are filled by Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Bob Balaban, and Barnard Hughes, and the film also features an uncredited cameo by M. Emmet Walsh.

The film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.



The film follows the story of a young Texan named Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who works as a dishwasher in a diner. As the film opens, Joe dresses himself like a rodeo cowboy, packs a suitcase, and quits his job. He heads to New York City in the hope of leading the life of a stud for hire.

Joe's naivete becomes evident as quickly as his cash disappears upon his arrival in New York. He is unsuccessful in his attempts to be hired as a stud for wealthy women. When finally successful in bedding a middle-aged New Yorker (Sylvia Miles), Joe's attempt to "talk business" results in the woman breaking down in tears and Joe giving her $20 instead. Joe meets the crippled Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a third-rate con man who easily tricks Joe out of twenty dollars by offering to introduce him to a well-known pimp, who instead turns out to be a religious fanatic (John McGiver). Joe flees the scene in pursuit of Ratso, but he is long gone.

Once broke, Joe is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay the bill. He finally attempts to make money by having sex with another man, but even this plan goes awry when the teenager (Bob Balaban) reveals that he doesn't have any money. The next day, Joe spots an unsuspecting Rizzo at a diner. He angrily shakes Ratso down for every penny he has — all sixty-four of them — but Ratso surprisingly offers to help Joe, by sharing his place, an apartment in a condemned building. Joe reluctantly accepts the offer, and they begin a business relationship, helping each other pickpocket, steal and further attempt to get Joe hired as a stud. They are both completely alone without each other, and a genuine bond develops between the two men. Ratso had a cough when the two first met during the summer, and as the story progresses into winter, his health steadily worsens.

Joe and Enrico

The events of Joe's early life are told through flashbacks interspersed throughout the film. He had been to church and baptized as a boy, but had only frightening memories of the experience, and he equated religion with disappointment. The only two people Joe loved were his grandmother Sally, and his onetime girlfriend Crazy Annie. His grandmother raised Joe after his mother abandoned him, but often left him alone to go off with beaux. (One of them, a wrangler named Woodsy Niles, was Joe's only father figure.) Sally Buck died while Joe was away serving in the Army. Annie had been a promiscuous girl who changed her ways after meeting Joe. This didn't sit well with the men of their hometown. After the two were caught together, Annie is raped by a gang of males, and Joe is unable to stop them. Annie was later sent to a mental institution. She remains a constant presence in Joe's mind.

Ratso's story comes mostly through the things he tells Joe. His father was an illiterate shoeshiner who worked deep in a subway station, developed a bad back, and "coughed his lungs out breathin' in that wax every day!" Ratso learned shining from his father, but refuses to follow (such as he could, after polio crippled one leg) in the old man's footsteps.

At one point, an odd-looking couple approach Joe and Ratso in a diner and hand Joe a flyer inviting him to a party. They enter into a Warhol-esque party scene (with Warhol superstars Viva, Ultra Violet and others in cameo appearances). The naive Joe smokes most of a joint (cannabis) thinking it's a cigarette, then takes a pill offered to him and begins to hallucinate. He leaves the party with a socialite (Brenda Vaccaro), who agrees to pay him $20 for spending the night with her. Ratso falls down a flight of stairs as they are leaving, but insists he is fine. Joe and the socialite attempt to have sex, but he suffers from temporary impotence. They play a word game together in which Joe reveals his limited academic prowess. She teasingly suggests that Joe may be gay, and that does the trick: he is suddenly able to perform, and the two have lively, aggressive sex. In the morning, the socialite sets up a friend of hers to be Joe's next customer, and it appears his career as a gigolo is on its way.

When Joe returns home later, Ratso is in bed, sweating and feverish, and admits to Joe that he is unable to walk. Joe wants to take Ratso to a doctor, but Ratso adamantly refuses. He wants to leave New York for Miami; this has been his goal the whole time. A frightened Joe is determined to take care of his friend, and leaves the apartment to scrounge some money. He picks up an older male customer (Barnard Hughes), but the man tries to send him away at the last minute out of guilt. Joe's desperation boils over when the man gives him a religious medallion instead of cash. He beats and robs the man, stuffing the telephone receiver into his mouth when he thinks the man is calling the hotel front desk for help.

With the money, Joe buys two bus tickets to Florida. During the long journey Ratso's already serious physical condition deteriorates further. During a rest stop, Joe touchingly buys bright new clothing for Ratso and himself. He throws away his cowboy outfit, and admits "I ain't no kinda hustler." As they reach Florida and near Miami, Joe talks about plans to get a regular job, only to ultimately realize that Ratso has died beside him. After Joe informs the bus driver, the driver tells him that there is nothing else to do, but continue on to Miami. The film ends with Joe seated with his arm around his dead friend, numbly staring out the bus window as row after row of palm trees go by.



The opening scenes were filmed in Big Spring, Texas.

Before Dustin Hoffman auditioned for this film, he knew that his all-American image could easily cost him the job. To prove he could do it, he asked the auditioning film executive to meet him on a street corner in Manhattan, and in the meantime, dressed himself in filthy rags. The executive arrived at the appointed corner and waited, barely noticing the beggar less than ten feet away who was accosting people for spare change. At last, the beggar walked up to him and revealed his true identity.

Despite his portrayal of Joe Buck, a character hopelessly out of his element in New York, Jon Voight is ironically a native New Yorker, hailing from Yonkers. Dustin Hoffman, who played a grizzled veteran of New York's streets, is actually from Los Angeles.

The line "I'm walkin' here!", which reached #27 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes, is often said to have been improvised, but producer Jerome Hellman disputes this account on the 2-disc DVD set of Midnight Cowboy. The cab was driven by a hired actor during a scripted take, and production team filmed it to look like an ad-lib. However, Hoffman told it differently on an installment of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. He stated that there were many takes to hit that traffic light just right so they didn't have to pause while walking. That take, the timing was perfect and the cab came out of nowhere and nearly hit them. Hoffman wanted to say "We're filming a movie here!" but he decided to not ruin the take.

Schlesinger chose the song "Everybody's Talkin'" (written by Fred Neil and performed by Harry Nilsson) as its theme, and the song underscores the entire first act of the film. (Other songs considered for the film included Nilsson's own "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" and Randy Newman's "Cowboy".) The song "He Quit Me" was also on the soundtrack; it was written by Warren Zevon, who also included it (as "She Quit Me") on his debut album Wanted Dead or Alive. This film was Adam Holender's first cinematography assignment; he was recommended to Schlesinger by Holender's childhood friend, filmmaker Roman Polanski.[1]

Awards and honors

The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay; it is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar in any category, and one of two X-rated films to be nominated for an Oscar (the other being Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange). Coincidentally, the previous year had seen the sole G-rated Best Picture winner, Oliver!. Both Hoffman and Voight were nominated for Best Actor awards and Sylvia Miles was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, in what is one of the shortest performances ever nominated (clocking in under four minutes of screen-time).

The film won six BAFTA Awards.

John Barry, who supervised the music and composed the score for the film, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. "Everybody's Talkin'" also won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for Harry Nilsson.

In 1994, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

American Film Institute recognition


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
Preceded by
The Graduate
BAFTA Award for Best Film
Succeeded by
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 film about a naive male prostitute and his sickly friend who struggle to survive on the streets of New York City. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969.

Directed by John Schlesinger. Written by Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy.


Joe Buck

  • You know what you can do with them dishes. And if you ain't man enough to do it for yourself, I'd be happy to oblige. I really would.
  • Lotta rich women back there, Ralph, begging for it, paying for it, too...and the men - they're mostly tutti fruttis. So I'm gonna cash in on some of that, right?...Hell, what do I got to stay around here for? I got places to go, right?
  • Well, sir, I ain't a for-real cowboy. But I am one helluva stud.
  • [to himself, in the mirror] You know what you gotta do cowboy.
  • [to Ratso] You want me to stay here. You're after somethin'. What are you after? You don't look like a fag.
  • We ain't gonna have to steal no more, that's what I'm tryin' to tell ya. I've got eight bucks in my damn pockets, twenty more come Thursday, boy. We're gonna be ridin' easy before very long, I'm gonna tell ya. She went crazy if you want to know the damn truth of it...She turned into a damn alley cat.
  • Yours was the only one left with a palm tree on it. The clothes are damn cheap here too, you know that?
  • Everything we got only set us back ten and some... Hey you know, Ratso. Rico, I mean. I got this damn thing all figured out. 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. What do ya think? Yeah, that's what I'll do. OK Rico? Rico? Rico? Hey, Rico? Rico?

Enrico Salvatore 'Ratso' Rizzo

  • [to Joe] Terrific shirt.
  • You know, with proper management, you could be takin' home fifty, maybe a hundred dollars a day, easy.
  • The X on the windows means the landlord can't collect rent, which is a convenience, on account of it's condemned.
  • Got my own private entrance here. You're the only one who knows about it. Watch the plank. Watch the plank. Break your god-damn skull. No way to collect insurance.
  • It's not, not bad, huh? There's no heat here, but you know, by the time winter comes, I'll be in Florida.
  • You know, in my own place my name ain't Ratso. I mean, it just so happens that in my own place, my name is Enrico Salvatore Rizzo...At least call me Rico in my own god-damn place.
  • The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk. Did you know that? That's a fact. In Florida, they got a terrific amount of coconut trees there. In fact, I think they even got 'em in the, uh, gas stations over there. And ladies? You know that in Miami, you got, uh, you listenin' to me? You got more ladies in Miami than in any resort area in the country there. I think per capita on a given day, there's probably, uh, three hundred of 'em on the beach. In fact, you can't even, uh, scratch yourself without gettin' a belly-button, uh, up the old kazoo there.
  • End up a hunchback like my old man? If you think I'm crippled, you should have caught him at the end of the day. My old man spent fourteen hours a day down in that subway. He come home at night, two to three hours worth of change stained with shoe polish. Stupid bastard coughed his lungs out from breathin' in that wax all day. Even a faggot undertaker couldn't get his nails clean. They had to bury him with gloves on.
  • Not bad, not bad for a cowboy. You're OK. You're OK.
  • You want the word on that brother and sister act. Hansel's a fag, and Gretel's got the hots for herself so who cares, right?
  • I don't think I can walk anymore. I've been fallin' down a lot. I'm scared...You know what they do to ya when, when they know you can't, when they find out that you can't walk-walk. Oh Christ.

Mr. O'Daniel

  • [to Joe] I'm gonna use ya. I'm gonna run you ragged...You and me can have fun together. It doesn't have to be joyless.
  • I've prayed on the streets. I've prayed in the saloons. I've prayed in the toilets. It don't matter where, so long as He gets that prayer.


  • Annie: Do you love me Joe? Do you love me? Love me? You're the only one Joe. You're the only one. You're better Joe. You're better than the rest of 'em. You're better than any of them Joe. You love me Joe. You're better than all of 'em. You're the best Joe.
  • Shirley: Like, uh, say, hay, lay, hay, hey, lay, hmmm...gay ends in y. Hmmm? Do you like that?...Gay, fey. Is that your problem, baby?
  • Bus driver: Okay, folks, everything's all right. Nothing to worry about...Okay folks, nothin' to worry about. Just a little illness. We'll be in Miami in just a few minutes.


Cass: I hate to ask you, but you're such a doll.
Joe: You know, Cass, that's a funny thing you mentioning money. 'Cause I was just about to ask you for some.
Cass: You were gonna ask me for money? Huh?
Joe: Hell, why do you think I come all the way up here from Texas for?
Cass: You were gonna ask me for oney? Who the hell do you think you're dealing with? Some old slut on 42nd Street? In case you didn't happen to notice it, ya big Texas longhorn bull, I'm one helluva gorgeous chick.
Joe: Now, Cass, take it easy.
Cass: You heard it. At twenty-eight years old. You think you can come up here, and pull this kind of crap up here! Well, you're out of your mind!

Joe: You really know the ropes! Damn, I wish I'd bumped into you before.
Ratso: You're pickin' trade up on the street like that. That's nowhere. I mean, you gotta get yourself some kind of management. You need my friend O'Daniel. He operates the biggest stable in town, in fact, in the whole god-damned Metropolitan area. It's stupid a stud like you paying. You don't want to be stupid.

Joe: [about Ratso's food] Smells worse hot than it did cold.
Ratso: All right, startin' tomorrow, you cook your own god-damn dinner. Or you get one of your rich Park Avenue ladies to cook for you in her penthouse.

Ratso: I gotta get outta here, gotta get outta here. Miami Beach, that's where you could score. Anybody can score there, even you. In New York, no rich lady with any class at all buys that cowboy crap anymore. They're laughin' at you on the street.
Joe: Ain't nobody laughin' at me on the street.
Ratso: Behind your back, I've seen 'em laughin' at you, fella.
Joe: Aw, what the hell you know about women anyway? When's the last time you scored, boy?
Ratso: That's a matter I only talk about at confession. We're not talkin' about me now.
Joe: And when's the last time you've been to confession?
Ratso: It's between me and my confessor. And I'll tell ya another thing. Frankly, you're beginning to smell. And for a stud in New York, that's a handicap.
Joe: Well, don't talk to me about clean. I ain't never seen you change your underwear once the whole time I've been here in New York. And that's pretty peculiar behavior.
Ratso: I don't have to do that kind of thing in public. I ain't got no need to expose myself.
Joe: No, I bet you don't. I bet you ain't never even been laid! How about that? And you're gonna tell me what appeals to women!
Ratso: I know enough to know that that great big, dumb cowboy crap of yours don't appeal to nobody except every jockey on 42nd Street. That's faggot stuff! You wanna call it by its name? That's strictly for fags!
Joe: John Wayne! You wanna tell me he's a fag? I like the way I look. It makes me feel good. It does. And women like me, god-dammit. Hell, only one thing I've ever been good for is lovin'. Women go crazy for me. That's a really true fact. Ratso, hell: Crazy Annie, they had to send her away.
Ratso: Then how come you ain't scored once, the whole time you've been in New York?
Joe: 'Cause, 'cause I need management, god-dammit. 'Cause you stole twenty dollars offa me. That's why you're gonna stop crappin' around about Florida. And, and get your skinny butt movin.' And earn twenty dollars worth of management which you owe me.

Joe: There you go boy, there's money for ya, that's nine dollars right there plus assorted change, minus 26 cents for milk, plus 5 cents for Dentyne - gum.
Ratso: Where you been, 42nd Street? That's where you've been.
Joe: Buy yourself some medicine before you die in my damn hands.

Ratso: She's hooked.
Shirley: Like why, cowboy?
Ratso: I'd say she was good for ten bucks, but I'll ask for twenty.
Shirley: Why cowboy whore? Did you know we were gonna make it?
Ratso: So, uh, do you really want to do business?
Shirley: [referring to Ratso] Who is he? Don't tell me you two are a couple!
Gretel: Why are you laughing, Joe? Are you really a cowboy?
Joe: Well, I'll tell you the truth now. I ain't a real cowboy, but I am one helluva stud.
Ratso: A very expensive stud. And I happen to be his manager.
Shirley: Incidentally, how much is this gonna cost me?
Ratso: Twenty bucks.
Shirley: OK.
Ratso: And taxi fare for me.
Shirley: Oh, get lost, will ya?
Ratso: I agree, but for that service, I charge one buck taxi fare.

Shirley: Maybe if you didn't call me ma'am, things might work out better.
Joe: That's the first god-damned time this thing ever quit on me. It's a fact. You think I'm lyin' to ya?
Shirley: No, no, I don't think you're lyin'. I just had this funny image. I had this image of a, um, policeman without his stick, and a, uh, bugler without his horn, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Well, I think I'm making it worse. Maybe we ought to take a little nap and see what happens.
Joe: I ain't sleepy.
Shirley: Oh! I know, scribbage.

Ratso: You ain't gettin' me no doctor. Nope.
Joe: When you're sick, boy, you need a damn doctor.
Ratso: Hey, no doctors, no cops. Don't be so stupid.
Joe: Well, what the hell you want me to do?
Ratso: Florida. You get me to Florida.
Joe: Oh hell, I can't go to Florida now.
Ratso: Just put me on a bus. Just put me on a bus. I don't need you.
Joe: You got the damn fever, boy. How the hell you gonna get to Florida?
Ratso: Just get me on a bus. You ain't sendin' me to Bellevue...Boy, you're really dumb. I don't need you...Dumb cowboy, boy.
Joe: Dammit. Shut up. Aw, just when things go right for me, you gotta pull a damn stunt like this.

Ratso: I've been thinkin'. I hope we're not gonna have a lot of trouble about my name down there. Because, I mean, like what's the whole point of this trip anyway, you know?
Joe: Keep your blankets on you.
Ratso: Can you see this guy runnin' around the beach all sun-tanned, and he's goin' in swimmin' like, and somebody yells 'Hey, Ratso!' What's that sound like to you?
Joe: It sounds like I knew ya.
Ratso: It sounds like crap, admit it. I'm Rico all the time, OK? We're gonna tell all these new people my name's Rico. OK?
Joe: OK.

Ratso: Here I am goin' to Florida, my leg hurts, my butt hurts, my chest hurts, my face hurts, and if that ain't enough, I gotta pee all over myself. [Joe chuckles] That's funny? I'm fallin' apart here.
Joe: You just took a little rest stop that wasn't on the schedule.


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Midnight Cowboy
Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Jerome Hellman
Written by James Leo Herlihy (novel)
Waldo Salt (screenplay)
Music by Jeffrey Comanor,
Floyd Huddleston
Warren Zevon (songs),
John Barry
Cinematography Adam Holender
Editing by Hugh A. Robertson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) May 25, 1969
Running time 113
Country United States
Language English / Italian
Budget $3.6 million
IMDb profile

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 movie, released by United Artists. John Schlesinger directed it, and Waldo Salt wrote the screenplay based on the James Leo Herlihy novel. It stars Dustin Hoffman (in his first starring role after The Graduate), along with Jon Voight in the title role.

It is the only X-rated movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.[1] Schlesinger won a Best Director Award; both Hoffman and Voight were nominated for Best Actor.

In 1971, it was given the "R" rating by the MPAA. Apart from this, nothing was changed in the movie.


Joe Buck (played by Voight, in his first major acting role) was an orphan who was raised by his grandmother in Texas. Sally died after Joe grew up, when he was drafted into the US Army. He had a girlfriend, who was called Crazy Annie, but she had been sent to a psychiatric hospital. With both women gone from his life, Joe had no family or close friends. After he left the Army, he worked as a dishwasher, and dreamed of moving to New York City, to become a "hustler" – a male prostitute. He saved money to make the trip, bought some stylish cowboy clothes, and traveled to New York on a bus.

Joe knew little about the realities of both New York and his chosen job, and he soon found himself homeless, with no money and only rare chances to earn any. When he first met "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman's character), Ratso swindled Joe out of $20, but when they met again, Ratso offered to share his "place", which turned out to be a room in a condemned building. The two became partners. Ratso shared what he knew about New York with Joe, and became his "manager" (pimp), and Joe shared any money he got with Ratso. Ratso was sick, probably with tuberculosis, and as time went on he depended more and more on Joe. Ratso cheered both of them up with stories about his plans to move to Florida before winter came.

The weather turned cold as the year ended, but Joe and Ratso got a break, when they were invited to a big party. Along with eating (and stashing for later) as much of the food there as they could, Joe met a socialite who finally treated him the way he'd always wanted to be, in New York City, and paid him likewise. Ratso, however, became even more ill, and was unable to walk or stand for long. He refused to go to a doctor or a hospital, and insisted Joe take him to Florida.

Joe tried to set up another encounter with the socialite, to raise travel money, but failed. He donated blood to get grocery money, and by chance met a traveling salesman. The salesman invited Joe to spend the night with him, but later felt guilty, and sent Joe home with a St. Christopher medal. When Joe found Ratso sicker than ever, he returned to beat and rob the salesman, for the money they needed.

Joe and Ratso left for Florida on a bus, headed to Miami. Joe bought new clothes for them both, and threw away his cowboy clothing. "I ain't no kinda hustler," Joe decided, and he planned to find a regular job once they reached Florida. Joe and Ratso talked and joked during most of the trip, but Ratso died before they arrived. Joe realized how much he had cared about Ratso as a person, and that what he'd missed most in his life was someone to be close with. Joe had lost his grandmother and his sweetheart. Now he'd lost his best friend, and Joe was scared to go on alone.


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