I watched two buddy picture movies on Sunday that, on the surface, would appear to be polar opposites. The first was Jimmy Stewart's Harvey, which I own and have long declared one of my favorite movies. The other movie was
158. (1597.) Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Despite its infamy, I've avoided this film for years because it contains two things I generally don't like: Dustin Hoffman and John Voight. They always turn in great performances, sure, but they never play anyone I want to spend any time with. Case in point: here Voight is an idiot wannabe hustler and Hoffman is a deranged petty thief. Fun guys.
But Midnight Cowboy isn't really about whether or not I like those two jerks. It's about those two jerks' unified struggle to survive in a downright hostile New York environment where they have failed to be either A) smart or B) pleasant. They might as well be a drunk and a six-foot-three-and-a-half-inch tall invisible rabbit in 1950s suburbia.
Say what you will about how many awards Midnight Cowboy won, many of them deserved, but I still consider Harvey to be the better movie. Midnight Cowboy is so concerned with either apologizing for or justifying its protagonists that it overloads with camera tricks, flashbacks, meandering incidental vignettes, and songs. Maybe if it had been a stage play first, the director would have realized that sometimes lipstick only makes the pig uglier.
If the raw grittiness of Midnight Cowboy your thing, that fine. There's certainly something to be said for the fearless intimacy of the experience. Personally, I'll keep Harvey and its stronger, more satisfying narrative in which everyone finds someone to love. Life is already too much of a downer to spend my free time in someone else's gutter.