Old School Americana & Nostalgia


This Famous Movie Line Was Completely Improvised

This Famous Movie Line Was Completely Improvised

Over the years, movies have provided a lot of planned dramatic events but sometimes unplanned ones happen, too. These cases are few and far between. Yet the occasions when they do take place are worth noting. Case in point: Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy.

Ratso Rizzo is good friends with Joe Buck, a male prostitute played by Jon Voight. Their friendship is rather unique and provides the centerpiece for director John Schlesinger’s film.

In the scene in question, Ratso and Joe are crossing a busy New York City street. At one point, a New York cab driver runs up to the pair and suddenly stops. Ratso pounds on top of the cab and yells, “Hey, I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!”

The cab driver then speeds away, leaving Ratso and Joe to keep crossing the street. Ratso yells at him, “Up yours, you son of a b**ch!”

‘Midnight Cowboy’ Lead Actor’s Voice Changes For Line

What’s noticeable about this scene is that Ratso’s voice changes a little bit in Midnight Cowboy. If you pay close enough attention, then you will hear Hoffman drop into his normal voice range. After he says, “Don’t worry about that. Actually, that ain’t a bad way to pick up insurance,” Hoffman reverts back to the nasally Ratso tone he’s doing for the movie.

But the big thing to note here is the initial lines themselves. When Hoffman said them, the whole thing was simply off the top of his head. That’s right. It was simply made up on the spot.

Now Hoffman said he did this, yet Voight and Schlesinger have a different take on it. Hoffman maintains that the cab driver was an actual New York City cabbie who grew impatience. The cab driver then sped through, almost hitting Hoffman and Voight. For his part, Hoffman, in a 2012 interview, said that “stolen shots” around regular people were done. Why? Because Midnight Cowboy‘s budget was so low.

Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight Disagree on the Origin of the Iconic Line

In speaking with the National Post, Hoffman added that he and Voight were to hit the crosswalk as the light turned green. Yet this New York City cab driver simply was impatient during the Midnight Cowboy filming. Hoffman said there was a hidden camera across the street from the actors. When the shot took place as it did, Hoffman said Schlesinger jumped out of a van and asked, “What happened? What happened? What happened?” The actors told the director what went down, and he said that they’d have to do the shot again.

Voight has a different take on it. In an interview with Pop Goes the Culture TV, Voight said that Schlesinger told him that the driver was a paid actor. He was supposed to do what he did, but not get so close to hitting the actors. “When he did almost do that, then Dustin came up with that line,” Voight said, “but we were always in preparation for improvisation.”

Schlesinger, in an interview with Venice Magazine in 2000, said he wasn’t sure that the shot itself was improvised. “I think we got an extra inside a cab and did it,” the director said. “I can’t swear to the fact that it was in the script or not, but I don’t think that was improvised.”