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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Midnight Cowboy (1969)



Reviews and Comments

Because Midnight Cowboy was originally rated X, back when the X rating did not denote, nor was associated with, pornographic films, there are a slew of trivia factoids about it. Midnight Cowboy was the only X-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar. It was the only X-rated film to be shown to a U.S. President while in office. It was the first X-rated film to be shown on television. Because of the association with pornography to come, it would be rerated R in 1971. But don't be fooled by the year of release signifying more stringent times: by today's standards, it ranks on the edgier side of the R rating. Though not exploitative, it deals with numerous mature issues, including male prostitution, rape, and child abuse.

There. Now that I've gotten the obligatory comments about the rating out of the way, I can talk more freely about the film itself. The performances of Dustin Hoffman and especially Jon Voight are fantastic, and the script is well written. The editing is innovative but sometimes feels a little too clever for its own good. But on the whole, the technical excellence of the movie is undeniable.

The problem is that this is a story without purpose. It's a lot of craftsmanship signifying nothing. What does Midnight Cowboy accomplish? Where does it get us? What does it do? It's of dubious use as entertainment and too desultory to be social commentary. It only makes sense to me as a character piece, but, honestly, I don't think it succeeds very well at that, either, though the performances are almost good enough to feign it.

The film, consequently, is like a perfect, well-oiled machine, one of a kind, constructed by great artisans and master craftsmen. The only problem -- the machine doesn't actually do anything.