Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1969. Jerome Hellman Productions. Screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy. Cinematography by Adam Holender. Produced by Jerome Hellman. Music by John Barry. Production Design by John Robert Lloyd. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Hugh A. Robertson.
Cowboy Jon Voight leaves a boring small town life behind and heads to New York City where he plans to become a big-time hustler, studding himself out to gorgeous, rich women and living the high life. The jolt of reality he receives instead is some occasionally willing older women and guys giving him blow jobs in movie theatre balconies. Along the way he meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a perpetually coughing street urchin who offers him the only bit of friendship he ever gets out of the Big Apple. John Schlesinger’s excellent, Oscar-winning film is painfully realistic, shockingly grungy and extremely entertaining. Despite its sexual content seeming much tamer after thirty years (the film’s X-rating was reduced to an R some years ago by the MPAA), its ability to naturally capture some pretty slimy characters remains pretty cutting edge, especially in the face of today’s much glossier standards for Hollywood filmmaking; it’s more like a film by Paul Morrissey, but with a plot and a purpose (Morrissey, incidentally, appears in a party scene). What’s most impressive, however, is the palpable tenderness that grows between these two characters who need each other so much: the unsentimental look at their relationship amid the horrific difficulties that they face is what really puts this one in a class of its own. The acting is excellent, particularly a brilliant, star-making role by Voight.
The Criterion Collection: #925
Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director (John Schlesinger); Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominations: Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman); Best Actor (Jon Voight); Best Supporting Actress (Sylvia Miles); Best Film Editing
Berlin Film Festival: In Competition
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Dustin Hoffman); Best Actor-Drama (Jon Voight); Best Supporting Actress (Brenda Vaccaro); Best Director (John Schlesinger); Best Screenplay