Jon Voight, left, and Dustin Hoffman in the “Midnight Cowboy” 1969  Courtesy Everett Collection/IMDb

When director John Schlesinger and writers James Leo Herlihy and Waldo Salt took Herlihy’s great novel and opened their film “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969, it startled America with its blend of raucous humor, human suffering and an ending you’ll long remember.

First of all, it gave us Jon Voight, a brand new presence on our screens, as Joe Buck, a tall, lanky blonde Texas dishwasher who had an itch for bigger everything: streets, buildings horizons, boots and belt buckles.

Voight, as a Texas dreamboat in new jeans, hit the streets of Manhattan hoping to pimp himself out to the first wealthy, middle-aged, East Side lady he could charm with his West Texas accent and small-town West Texas drug-store charm.

Buck’s Technicolor dreams, after a few great comic tries, quickly come apart on the greasy streets of Manhattan and land him in an old abandoned building, where he shares rotten floor boards with the roaches and rats and con artist derelict Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).

This was, as we all know now, the movie that took the boyish Dustin Hoffman from his star-making debt in “The Graduate,” and showed the world what a truly great actor was hiding in plain sight.

In one hour and 53 minutes, Hoffman creates a stunning, three-dimensional, warts-scabs-tics-and-all human being, who daily limps across the streets of New York and embeds his face in the history of films.


Together, these two hapless figures of the streets soon become the forsaken version of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot’s” Vlad and Estragon while working Ratso’s plot to become Buck’s pimp.

The film adds the wild-eyed Sylvia Miles and one of Buck’s first attempts at seduction, a gifted Brenda Vaccaro; Barnard Hughs; sensitive Jennifer Salt, daughter of writer Waldo; the great John McGiver; plus, in a small, frightening debut, actor Bob Balaban, who haunts 42nd Street movie balconies as a seducer, like a wounded feral cat. Haunting, a brief sad and brilliant cameo.

Each actor is as indispensable to the story as chess pieces are to a game.

“Midnight Cowboy” is, and will remain, one of the great duo films of all time, like Gable and Tracy, and Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1937 film of “Of Mice and Men.”

“Midnight Cowboy” streams on Tubi, Pluto TV, Prime Video, Apple TV and Redbox.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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