Midnight Cowboy

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - DVD Teaser
Year Released 1969 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 108:21 minutes Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (52:33)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 2,4 Director John Schlesinger

Warner Home Video
Starring Dustin Hoffman 
Jon Voight 
Brenda Vaccaro 
John McGiver
Ruth White
Sylvia Miles
Barnard Hughes
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music John Barry

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 4.0
16 x 9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 4.0, 256 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    The 1970 Oscars saw Midnight Cowboy walk away with Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, leaving four nominees without success - Best Actor (both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight), Best Film Editing and Best Supporting Actress. The 1970 British Academy Awards saw the film walk away with six wins - the same three as the Oscars, plus Best Actor, Best Film Editing and Best Promising Newcomer. So this is obviously a film of some stature, right? Well, if it was, the intervening thirty years may not have been very kind to the film, as I found this to be quite an overrated effort that did not engage me at all. Not that this has stopped the voters at the Internet Movie Database voting the film into the Top 250 of all time.

    This is the story of a country hick from Texas, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who thinks he can head to New York to make his fortune servicing the needs of the love-starved women of that city. Obviously, this is a little more difficult than he anticipated and eventually he meets up with Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time (and sickly) con man who points Joe in some directions, then disappears with twenty bucks. As things go from bad to worse for Joe, he eventually meets up again with Ratso and moves in with him as they struggle to survive on the streets of New York. This is not a happy ever after film.

    This is not an especially convoluted story, but it does prove that a simple story can be woven into something quite complex as a film. And the fine screenplay was magnificently brought to life by a superb performance by Dustin Hoffman as the sickly con man, and why he did not get the Oscar for this is a little hard to believe. Jon Voight provides one of the best performances of his career as the naive hick from way out (south) west, and the fact that both leads gave such stunning performances helps in no small way to make the film work (especially as the story is very much about these two characters, with little in the way of supporting roles). John Schlesinger must have been truly inspired by the story and the leads, as this is a very tightly directed effort that keeps flowing, despite the at times confusing flashbacks in Joe Buck's life. But despite the excellence on offer, I simply did not ever find myself getting really involved with the film. Nonetheless, this does remain a classic of cinema that many will find great entertainment from.

Transfer Quality


    So we have a thirty year old film, and based upon recent experiences, this was approached with some trepidation - unnecessarily so in hindsight.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Surprisingly, the transfer was generally very sharp throughout, although perhaps lacking just a little in the way of depth to the transfer. However, this was significantly better than I was expecting and amongst the best transfers I have seen for a film of this vintage. Unfortunately the transfer was not especially clear, although this ends up giving the transfer a lovely gritty feel that captures the sleazy back street feel of New York so well. The shadow detail was not too good, especially in the night time scenes and this is really where the age of the film is noticed the most. There did not appear to be any low level noise problems in the transfer.

    The colours are beautifully rendered throughout the film, and this came up a lot brighter and far more vibrant than I was expecting. Even more noticeable is the fact that this is consistent throughout the film. The colours are very nicely saturated, just on the edge of being oversaturated, producing a wonderful rich tone to the film. There was some minor evidence of colour oversaturation in a couple of scenes in the bar where the predominant background colour is red, but nothing too unpalatable at all.

    There were no significant MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer. There were no significant film-to-video artefacts noted in the transfer either. Obviously there are film artefacts throughout the film, although only a few were especially distracting or noticeable (some very obvious black film registration dots), and on the balance I felt that this was quite clean for a thirty year old film. The whole transfer gives the impression that some care has been taken in the restoration of the film.

    This disc is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 52:33. The layer change is barely noticeable, it is reasonably well placed and is not disruptive to the film. The fact that a dual layer format has been chosen for a 108 minute film with little in the way of extras would go some way to accounting for the fine transfer. The transfer by the way is from a French master.


    The remastered Dolby Digital soundtrack is a fine match for the video transfer.

    There are five audio tracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack, and Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks in German, French, Italian and Spanish. I listened to the English default, although briefly sampled the others. It should be noted that the Italian soundtrack sounds a lot more recessed than the other soundtracks.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

    There were no apparent audio sync problems with the disc.

    The score by John Barry is not especially noticeable, but makes a nice supportive contribution to the film.

    Whilst we have a rather unusual 4.0 surround soundtrack, it is not an especially brilliant example of the use of surround channels. The surround channels only seem to get minimal use, for ambience really, but this is hardly a problem as the film is very much dialogue driven. Overall, I find little bothersome about the soundtrack, which is quite a natural sounding effort. The bass channel obviously has no use at all in the soundtrack.


    Even by the usual standards for MGM releases, this extras package is not especially good.


    Not especially well themed to the film, but it is presented in widescreen format and is 16x9 enhanced.


    The usual informative effort from MGM.

Theatrical Trailer (2:01)

    Actually, for a film of this vintage, the trailer is of damn good quality.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 release misses out on:     The Region 4 release misses out on:     The preference would therefore be the Region 4 release owing to the inherent superiority of the PAL system and the 16x9 enhanced transfer.


    Midnight Cowboy is a classic film, despite the lack of impact it has had on me. As befits a film of this stature, it has been given fine treatment for its DVD release.

    A very nice video transfer.

    A more then acceptable audio transfer.

    Extras are barely adequate.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
2nd January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL