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John Schlesinger
Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes
Writing Credits:
Waldo Salt, James Leo Herlihy (novel)

Joe Buck (Jon Voight), an aspiring male prostitute from Texas, heads to Manhattan where he hopes to find plenty of wealthy women willing to pay for the services of a handsome man. When he arrives, the naive country boy befriends Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a tubercular homeless con artist who dreams of moving to Florida. As they go about trying to get the money Ratso needs, the two men confront the seediness, corruption, and cruelty that flourish in the big city.

Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy, this Oscar-winning film (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay) features brilliant performances by Voight and Hoffman, and brings to the screen an unusually gritty realism in its portrayal of the streets of New York City.

Box Office:
$3.6 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 2/21/2006

• Audio Commentary with Producer Jerome Hellman
• “After Midnight: Reflecting on the Classic 35 Years Later” Documentary
• “Controversy and Acclaim” Documentary
• “Celebrating Schlesinger” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Midnight Cowboy: Special Edition (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2006)

Once again I ran into trouble as I attempted to separate the product from the aftermath. In the 35 plus years after the release of 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, many parts of the film have entered the popular vernacular. The movie's well known enough that even as innocuous a source as Disney's Hercules refers to it in one scene.

However, the one production inspired by Cowboy that stuck with me the most appeared in the early Eighties via an episode of SCTV. I adored that show, but boy has it affected my view of many classic films. Ben-Hur, The Godfather, even The Towering Inferno - I can watch none of these without reflexively thinking back to wonderful SCTV sketches.

As you've undoubtedly guessed, Midnight Cowboy also falls into this category. In fact, although I saw the movie once or twice back in the Eighties, virtually all of my memories of the film have been shaped by that SCTV sketch. It featured Dr. Tongue (John Candy) and Woody (Eugene Levy) as they filmed a 3-D remake of Cowboy. This wasn't their best effort - Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses rules that particular roost - but it was a clever way of poking fun at a classic film.

And I guess Midnight Cowboy qualifies as a classic, though I really didn't think it was all that fantastic. It's another one of those movies that I imagine had a much stronger impact when it first appeared. After all, this sucker was actually rated "X" in 1969. The cause for that seems mysterious, as I barely saw enough crudeness to get it past a "PG-13" these days. (Cowboy remains the only "X" or "NC-17" rated film to earn a Best Picture award, though it eventually was re-rated as an “R”.)

Cowboy tells the sad tale of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), an ebullient Texan who clearly thinks he's God's gift to women. With so many fine fillies to service, he leaves the Lone Star state and trucks to New York City, where he plans to sell his services to all those wealthy ladies.

Inevitably, things don't work out as he planned. Before too long, he's been sucked down to poverty level and can barely scrape by, even though "aided" by scummy pal Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The two dream of a better life, but we know it ain't gonna happen.

So much of the story seems inevitable, as we can tell this isn't the kind of movie that will feature a happy ending. As such, we're left to the way in which the plot is told to get our entertainment, and director John Schlesinger does move things along at a reasonable pace, though the movie bogs down at times. Put simply, there's not that much of a story to be told, and the characters themselves aren't overly compelling.

As played by Voight and Hoffman, Buck and Rizzo come across as rather cartoonish. Voight's Buck is little more than a broad caricature of a Texan, as wickedly lampooned by Candy on SCTV. His Doctor Tongue followed virtually every line with a hearty "y'all". Voight is engagingly artificial, but fake nonetheless.

I've never been terribly enamored of much of Hoffman's acting, and Rizzo points out his flaws. Too often Hoffman seems to create a peculiar voice or a look, and he lets the affectations run him rather than the other way around too much of the time. That's the case with Rizzo; Hoffman appears so concerned with the funny little voice and the hunched walk that all we get is a cartoon character. I'll admit that Hoffman and Voight provide good cartoons, but they remain broad and unreal.

Such characters can work for some movies, but I couldn't help but feel that Midnight Cowboy would have been better served by more realistic leads. As it stands, Buck and Rizzo are vaguely interesting personalities, but they're almost never likable, sympathetic or compelling. The movie itself provides a decent look at the dark side of the dream, but I'd take better films like Taxi Driver over this one.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Midnight Cowboy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not a disaster, the transfer showed the movie’s age.

A lot of variation came when I looked at sharpness. Parts of the movie seemed reasonably distinctive and detailed, but quite a few shots were less concise. I noticed a fair number of soft elements throughout the film. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw some light edge enhancement. Print flaws were very minor. The flick was rather grainy at times, and I saw a few specks, but the transfer usually lacked defects.

Colors also seemed erratic. At times the movie boasted decent vivacity, but the tones also became rather flat and faded on more than a few occasions. The hues were decent but rarely better than that. Though some muddy elements appeared, black levels generally seemed deep and dark. Shadow detail also varied but mostly looked appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. Overall, this was a decent but lackluster transfer.

I found greater consistency from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy. This provided a remix of the original mono audio that also appeared on the DVD. The front soundstage presented a wide image. Music benefited most from the stereo separation, as different instruments popped up in the various front channels distinctly and clearly.

Effects appeared logically placed in the appropriate realms, though the localization seemed a bit too extreme at times. Sometimes the image blended together neatly and smoothly, but at times the soundstage was awkward and too “speaker specific”. The surrounds didn't shoulder much of the audio burden and offered little more than gentle reinforcement of the front speakers, but that was fine for this material.

Audio quality appeared dated but solid. Dialogue sounded somewhat thin and reedy but was always clear and easily intelligible; no concerns with edginess occurred. Effects were accurate and realistic, and the music usually appeared rich and deep, with some solid low end thrown into the mix. Cowboy boasted a surprising amount of bass for such an old film, and most of it came through the music. While at times the tone of the audio reminded me that Cowboy is more than 35 years old, the movie sounded better than I expected.

How did the picture and sound of this 2006 edition of Midnight Cowboy compare to those of the original 1997 DVD? Both boasted similar audio, but the new anamorphic transfer was a definite improvement on the original non-enhanced image. That one suffered from prominent edge enhancement and a whole lot of source flaws. The 2006 transfer may not be terrific, but at least it demonstrated improvements over the old one.

Clear improvements come from the 2006 release’s extras. While not chock full of supplements, this set definitely betters the nearly feature-free original. On DVD One, we get an audio commentary from producer Jerome Hellman. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Hellman discusses the style and actions of director John Schlesinger, cast and performances, locations and sets, structure and editing, production design and the specifics of some sequences.

At his best, Hellman gives us pretty solid notes about the production. He covers some of the ins and outs with reasonable depth and honesty. Unfortunately, he goes silent too much of the time. The track often falters and goes dead. When Hellman speaks, he usually offers decent details. This simply happens too infrequently for the commentary to become anything more than average.

Moving to DVD Two, we start with a new 30-minute documentary called After Midnight: Reflecting on the Classic 35 Years Later. It includes movie clips, archival materials, and new interviews with Hellman, director John Schlesinger’s lifetime partner Michael Childers, cinematographer Adam Holender, composer/music supervisor John Barry, and actors Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Salt, Bob Balaban, and Sylvia Miles.

“Midnight” looks at the movie’s story and development, how the principals came onto the project, casting, characters and performances, the film’s photography, and the shooting of specific sequences such as flashbacks and the party. Quite a lot of depth emerges here. The participants present honest memories of the material and explore things well. The show doesn’t answer all the questions, but it covers matters very nicely.

Next we get another documentary. Controversy and Acclaim fills 10 minutes and nine seconds with remarks from Hellman, Holender, Childers, Balaban, Hoffman, Salt, Miles, and Voight. The piece looks at ratings problems and the flick’s reception. Given Cowboy’s status as the only “X”-rated film to win Best Picture, we don’t get much about various controversies. Instead, the participants mainly reflect on its greatness. They present some decent insights, but the show falls short of its goals.

A featurette entitled Celebrating Schlesinger goes for nine minutes, 35 seconds. It features Childers, Hoffman, Hellman, Voight, Salt, Holender, Balaban, Barry, producer Robert Evans, actors William Devane, Kiefer Sutherland, and film critic Leonard Maltin. They discuss the director’s talents and work. Inevitably, this becomes a lovefest. As with the other shows, it occasionally offers interesting information, but usually it comes across as a lot of praise without much depth.

74 images appear in a Photo Gallery. This mixes black and white with color pictures. We get both publicity shots and snaps from the set. These are mildly interesting at best.

A collection of trailers pops up in the Previews area. We find ads for Easy Rider, Layer Cake, Raging Bull, Snatch, Taxi Driver, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Great Escape. Although one appeared on the otherwise bare-bones original DVD, no trailer for Cowboy shows up here.

An odd component completes the set. Inside the package, we find seven Postcards. Each features an image from the movie and a quote as well. I don’t know if anyone will ever mail one of these, but they’re a moderately fun extra.

For me, Midnight Cowboy is one of the “middle of the road” Oscar Best Picture winner. It’s a quality piece and the movie has its moments, but overall, I just could never get involved in the story or the characters. The DVD provides average picture with relatively strong sound and a mix of fairly interesting supplements. This is the best edition of Midnight Cowboy on the market. It’s the one to get, and that goes for fans who own the old DVD; this one merits an upgrade.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3684 Stars Number of Votes: 19
4 3:
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