By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)
Aside from its distinction as being the only X-rated film to ever win Oscars, John Schlesinger’s groundbreaking 1969 character study (one of three special archival presentations at this year’s SIFF) also helped usher in a new era of mature, gritty realism in American film that flourished from the early to mid 1970s.
Dustin Hoffman has seldom matched his character work here as Ratso Rizzo, a homeless New York City con artist who adopts country bumpkin/aspiring male hustler Joe Buck (Jon Voight) as his “protégé”. The two leads are outstanding, as is the supporting cast, which includes John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes and a teenage Bob Balaban. Also look for cameos from several of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” regulars, who can be spotted milling about here and there in a memorable party scene.
In hindsight, the location filming provides a fascinating historical document of the seedy milieu that was “classic” Times Square (New York “plays itself” very well here). Schlesinger won an Oscar for Best Director, as did Waldo Salt for his screenplay.