Taxi Driver (1976)

R | 112 mins | Drama | 7 February 1976

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HISTORY

The summary for this entry was completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary was written by participant Jeremy Carr, Visiting Research Fellow with the Arizona State University Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture.

Taxi Driver was ranked 52nd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 47th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       The end credits contain the following statement: “Our gratitude and respect to Bernard Herrmann, June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975.” Herrmann, who composed the score, passed away the day after he finished scoring the film, as noted in the first 1976 edition of University of Southern California publication, Filmfacts . A “special thanks” also appears in the end credits, acknowledging the following individuals and organizations: Julia Cameron, Dick Clark Productions, Loretta Cubberley, Richard Goodwin, Kris Kristofferson, Charlie McCarthy, Jerry Orange, Hank Phillippi, Jack Hayes, and Linda Kopcyk.
       In an interview with Richard Thompson, published in the Mar-Apr 1976 edition of Film Comment , writer Paul Schrader stated that producers Michael and Julia Phillips read his screenplay in 1973, a year after it was written, and optioned it. In a 7 Mar 1992 article written for American Cinematheque’s "Paul Schrader: A Weekend of Films and Conversation," Schrader explained that director Brian De Palma first gave the script to the Phillipses. Though De Palma wanted to direct, the producers thought Martin Scorsese would be better suited. After seeing Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973, see entry), Schrader agreed that Scorsese and Mean Streets actor Robert De Niro would be the ideal combination to make the film. ... More Less

The summary for this entry was completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary was written by participant Jeremy Carr, Visiting Research Fellow with the Arizona State University Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture.

Taxi Driver was ranked 52nd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 47th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       The end credits contain the following statement: “Our gratitude and respect to Bernard Herrmann, June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975.” Herrmann, who composed the score, passed away the day after he finished scoring the film, as noted in the first 1976 edition of University of Southern California publication, Filmfacts . A “special thanks” also appears in the end credits, acknowledging the following individuals and organizations: Julia Cameron, Dick Clark Productions, Loretta Cubberley, Richard Goodwin, Kris Kristofferson, Charlie McCarthy, Jerry Orange, Hank Phillippi, Jack Hayes, and Linda Kopcyk.
       In an interview with Richard Thompson, published in the Mar-Apr 1976 edition of Film Comment , writer Paul Schrader stated that producers Michael and Julia Phillips read his screenplay in 1973, a year after it was written, and optioned it. In a 7 Mar 1992 article written for American Cinematheque’s "Paul Schrader: A Weekend of Films and Conversation," Schrader explained that director Brian De Palma first gave the script to the Phillipses. Though De Palma wanted to direct, the producers thought Martin Scorsese would be better suited. After seeing Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973, see entry), Schrader agreed that Scorsese and Mean Streets actor Robert De Niro would be the ideal combination to make the film. In a 23 Apr 2011 The Times (London) article, Scorsese commented that De Palma gave him the script, and, upon reading, he instantly related to the main character’s outsider status, knowing what it was like to be excluded from cliques as the grandchild of Italian immigrants.
       Financing the film proved difficult, but Schrader explained in Film Comment that the filmmakers were committed to making Taxi Driver their way regardless of box office prospects. According to Schrader, De Niro believed that Taxi Driver was a film “people would be watching fifty years from now.” At the time, Warner Bros. wanted to finance the film for $500,000, but the offer was too low, as noted in a Mar 1976 Millimeter article. According to the American Cinematheque article, Schrader claimed they were later offered financing contingent upon actor Jeff Bridges playing the lead role.
       A 10 Jun 1975 HR news item announced that actress Cybill Shepherd was cast opposite De Niro, and the project would be her second for Columbia Pictures after her 1971 feature film debut in the studio’s The Last Picture Show (see entry). A 29 Mar 1976 New York article stated that, before actress Jodie Foster could be cast, the thirteen-year-old was made to undergo psychological testing to ensure she would not be mentally harmed by the film’s subject matter. California Governor Edmund Brown helped expedite the vetting process conducted by California’s Welfare Department. According to a “Making Taxi Driver ” featurette included in the film’s 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD, Foster’s older sister Connie served as a stand-in for the actress, performing certain “provocative” actions which were deemed inappropriate for the young star.
       Millimeter reported that the production was originally set to begin in Jun 1974, but, due to Scorsese and De Niro’s busy schedules, did not actually shoot until Jun 1975. Filming took place in New York City on a budget of $1.8 million, as noted in a 17 Mar 1976 HR news item. In The Times (London) , Scorsese stated that the shoot was scheduled for forty days, but he went over schedule by at least five days. According to an unsourced contemporary article found at AMPAS library, the following New York City locations were used in the film: the Bellmore Cafeteria at 28th Street and Park Avenue South; an adult film theater on 8th Avenue; Columbus Circle; and, the Garment District.
       According to Film Comment , Schrader rewrote the script after Scorsese came on to direct, and further changes were improvised during the making of the film that surprised the writer when he saw the final edit. The The Times (London) article reported that Shepherd and De Niro spent their first three days together in New York's St. Regis hotel, improvising scenes while Scorsese filmed them in black and white with a 16mm camera. Scorsese stated in The Times (London) that De Niro improvised the “famous scene” in the final cut of the film in which he practices pulling guns from holsters in front of a mirror, and the actor invented the line, “Are you talking to me?” In the “Making Taxi Driver ” featurette, director of photography Michael Chapman stated that Scorsese played the role of the cuckolded passenger who planned to kill his wife because his friend, the actor originally cast in the part, had been injured in a car accident on another film. According to The Times (London) , Scorsese said De Niro encouraged him to play the role, and guided him to improvise on set. Shepherd commented in the same article that the weather was incredibly hot during the summer shoot, and the sound crew turned off the air conditioning during filming of her character’s first date with De Niro at the diner. In real life, Shepherd claimed that De Niro asked her to go out with him during the production, but she refused in order to preserve their characters’ unfamiliarity.
       According to "Incident With A Taxi Driver," an article in the Mar 1976 issue of Millimeter , writer Mark Carducci, who covered the production of Taxi Driver for the magazine, rode in a taxi months prior to filming and did not realize until later that his driver was Robert De Niro. The actor had been driving a taxi in preparation for the role, and on the day Carducci rode in his cab, the writer had only enough money to pay the exact fare, leaving no tip.
       Though extremely violent, the film received an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA. According to Millimeter , to keep the film from being rated ‘X,’ the film’s colors were muted in release prints; specifically, the color of blood shown in the film’s climactic final shootout was altered “from bright red to reddish brown.” In a 22 Feb 1976 LAT review, Charles Champlin wrote that several edits and compromises were made in order to receive the desired rating, but the film “remain[ed]…a very hard and violent R.” Champlin complained that screen credits included several ambiguous titles which did not explain the exact roles of crew members, including “visual consultant,” “ creative consultant,” and “special photography.”
       Critical reception was mostly positive, and the film was “a box-office smash” according to an 11 Apr 1976 LAT article. Filmfacts followed seventeen reviews, including Pauline Kael's in the New Yorker and Charles Champlin’s in LAT , and offered the following tally: “9 favorable, 6 mixed, 1 negative.” In the 9 Feb 1976 New Yorker , Kael paralleled Taxi Driver with Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground and defended its portrayal of violence, stating that the filmmakers put the audience in the shoes of a psychopath without moralizing. Coincidentally, in The Times (London) article, Scorsese listed Notes from the Underground as a book that had influenced him from an early age. Stanley Kauffman, who reviewed the film for New Republic on 6 Mar 1976, drew comparisons between Schrader’s storytelling and the style of French director Robert Bresson, whom Schrader wrote about in his book Transcendental Style in Film (Berkeley, 1972). In a 4 Feb 1976 HR review, Arthur Knight lauded the supporting cast but stated that the film was "dominated by its star, who manages to make a repulsive character constantly sympathetic." A common critique in mixed reviews was that the “coda” at the end of the film confused viewers, who were left wondering if De Niro’s character had been redeemed or if the filmmakers were simply commenting ironically on his perceived heroism. In an Apr 1976 edition of Vogue , the reviewer pointed to several continuity errors, including inconsistencies in De Niro’s hair length and style throughout the film, a shot of a record being played accompanied by music from the score, and a scene in which Shepherd leaves her office on a sunny day and walks into rain outside. A Mar 1977 Ladies Home Journal brief summed up the film by saying it "did for cab-riding what Jaws (1975, see entry) did for swimming."
       According to a 17 Nov 1975 Box brief, Bantam Books was scheduled to publish a novelization of the film. A soundtrack was later announced in a 19 Apr 1976 Box brief, stating that Arista Records planned to release it. In 2005, rights were purchased by Majesco to turn the film into a videogame, to be created by developer Papaya Studio, as noted in an 11 May 2005 HR article.
       A 25 Feb 1977 DV news item announced that the film was voted “Best Foreign Film” by an association of Mexican journalists, and De Niro traveled to Mexico City on the same day to receive the award at a televised event.
       In 1981, the film returned to the spotlight after John W. Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and speculations arose that Hinckley took inspiration from Taxi Driver . According to a 7 Apr 1981 Santa Monica Evening Outlook report, Columbia Pictures production chieftain John Veitch denied rumors that the studio planned to re-release the film to "cash in” on the alleged connection between Hinckley’s crime and the film. A 16 Apr 1982 Var news brief reported that the film would be screened as part of Hinckley’s trial, at the behest of the defense. Jodie Foster also testified “in a closed videotaped session,” because Hinckley had allegedly committed the crime in the hopes of being noticed by the actress. According to a 19 May 1982 LAHExam article, psychiatrist William T. Carpenter testified that Hinckley watched Taxi Driver fifteen times and aligned himself with De Niro’s character so closely that he felt the film was “speaking to him personally.” The testimony disturbed Schrader, who was “more grieved than surprised” by the revelation.
       A 16 Feb 2010 DV article reported on rumors of a Scorsese and De Niro collaboration with the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, who had allegedly challenged Scorsese to remake Taxi Driver in Berlin, where Scorsese was promoting his film Shutter Island (2010, see entry) and Von Trier was negotiating “pre-sales” for his 2011 film Melancholia . In a similar fashion, Von Trier had previously challenged director Jorgen Leth to remake his 1967 film The Perfect Human five different ways.
       The film received the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for the following Academy Awards: Actor in a Leading Role – Robert De Niro; Actress in a Supporting Role – Jodie Foster; Music (Original Score) – Bernard Herrmann; and Best Picture. According to publicity materials for Columbia Pictures’ Diamond Jubilee Celebration, the film also received the following awards: the New York Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics and Los Angeles Film Critics named Robert De Niro “Best Actor”; the National Society awarded Scorsese with “Best Director”; and, the British Academy Awards named Jodie Foster “Best Supporting Actress.”
       According to production notes found in the AMPAS library, both Leonard Harris, a former film critic for CBS, and filmmaker Albert Brooks made their feature film acting debuts in Taxi Driver .


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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Nov 1975.
---
Box Office
19 Apr 1976.
---
Cosmopolitan
Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
4 Feb 1976
p. 3.
Daily Variety
25 Feb 1977.
---
Daily Variety
16 Apr 1982.
---
Daily Variety
16 Feb 2010.
---
Film Comment
Mar-Apr 1976.
---
Filmfacts
1976
Vol. XIX, No. 1, pp. 1-6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jun 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 2005
p. 8, 21.
Ladies Home Journal
Mar 1977.
---
LAHExam
22 Feb 1976
p. 1, 5.
LAHExam
19 May 1982
p. A2.
Los Angeles Times
22 Feb 1976
Section IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1976.
---
Millimeter
Mar 1976.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Feb 1976
p. 73.
New Republic
6 Mar 1976
pp. 18-19.
New York
29 Mar 1976.
---
New York Times
8 Feb 1976
p. 36.
New York Times
15 Feb 1976
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
14 Mar 1976
Section II, p. 1.
New Yorker
9 Feb 1976
p. 82.
Newsweek
1 Mar 1976
pp. 82-83.
Santa Monica Evening Outlook
7 Apr 1981.
---
Saturday Review
6 Mar 1976
pp. 42-43.
The Times (London)
23 Apr 2011
pp. 1-2.
Time
16 Feb 1976
pp. 62-63.
Variety
4 Feb 1976
p. 17.
Village Voice
16 Feb 1976
pp. 145-46.
Village Voice
5 Apr 1976
pp. 69-71.
Vogue
Apr 1976.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Martin Scorsese Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
2d unit cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Best boy
Key grip
Still photog
Spec photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Visual consultant
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst prop master
Scenic artist
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward
SOUND
Boom man
Supv sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Re-rec supv
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title des
Opt eff
MAKEUP
Spec makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative consultant
D.G.A. trainee
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Transportation coord
Casting
Atmosphere casting
Spec pub
Asst to the prods
Asst to the dir
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Secy to the prod
Secy to the prod
Chemtone processing by
Prod services by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Late for the Sky," by Jackson Browne, courtesy of Asylum Records
"Hold Me Close," lyrics by Keith Addis, music by Bernard Herrmann.
DETAILS
Release Date:
7 February 1976
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 7 February 1976
Los Angeles opening: 25 February 1976
Production Date:
mid June--mid August 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
2 August 1976
Copyright Number:
LP45485
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Color prints by M.G.M.
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24441
SYNOPSIS

Twenty-six year old Travis Bickle applies for a job as a New York City taxicab driver. The personnel officer drills Travis with questions, and warms to him when he realizes they both served in the Marines. After Travis expresses his willingness to drive long hours, any day, in any part of the city, he is hired. Travis later writes in his diary about the poor condition of the city, the disturbing people he sees, and his new job which pays him $300 to $350 per week. At work, he picks up an older man with a prostitute and complains afterward about cleaning bodily fluids off the backseat of the cab. After working twelve hour shifts, he complains that he cannot sleep and wants a purpose in life. One day, Travis sees a campaign worker named Betsy and describes his romantic impression of her in his diary. Inside headquarters for Senator Charles Palantine’s presidential campaign, Betsy and her coworker, Tom, engage in friendly conversation while Travis watches from his parked cab. Betsy becomes aware of Travis; however, when Tom goes outside to confront him, he speeds away. Later, he sits with fellow cab drivers in an all-night cafeteria, and they discuss the various acts of violence they've encountered. Travis remains distant and glares at several African American men. Sometime later, Travis asks Betsy out for coffee, and she accepts. At a diner, Travis and Betsy discuss the campaign, and she offers her impression of Travis, comparing him to lines from a song by Kris Kristofferson. Travis promptly buys the record. One evening, Travis picks up Senator Palantine. Though ignorant about political issues, Travis suggests the candidate clean up the city ... +


Twenty-six year old Travis Bickle applies for a job as a New York City taxicab driver. The personnel officer drills Travis with questions, and warms to him when he realizes they both served in the Marines. After Travis expresses his willingness to drive long hours, any day, in any part of the city, he is hired. Travis later writes in his diary about the poor condition of the city, the disturbing people he sees, and his new job which pays him $300 to $350 per week. At work, he picks up an older man with a prostitute and complains afterward about cleaning bodily fluids off the backseat of the cab. After working twelve hour shifts, he complains that he cannot sleep and wants a purpose in life. One day, Travis sees a campaign worker named Betsy and describes his romantic impression of her in his diary. Inside headquarters for Senator Charles Palantine’s presidential campaign, Betsy and her coworker, Tom, engage in friendly conversation while Travis watches from his parked cab. Betsy becomes aware of Travis; however, when Tom goes outside to confront him, he speeds away. Later, he sits with fellow cab drivers in an all-night cafeteria, and they discuss the various acts of violence they've encountered. Travis remains distant and glares at several African American men. Sometime later, Travis asks Betsy out for coffee, and she accepts. At a diner, Travis and Betsy discuss the campaign, and she offers her impression of Travis, comparing him to lines from a song by Kris Kristofferson. Travis promptly buys the record. One evening, Travis picks up Senator Palantine. Though ignorant about political issues, Travis suggests the candidate clean up the city and expresses his support of the senator's candidacy. Later, a twelve year-old prostitute, Iris, gets into Travis' cab. No sooner is she in the cab, when her pimp, Matthew, also known as “Sport,” arrives and pulls her from the car. Travis takes Betsy to a pornographic movie on their next date. She becomes agitated, storms out of the theater, and hails a cab. After numerous attempts to send her flowers, Travis calls Betsy in an attempt to reconcile, but she has no interest. As time passes, Travis grows angrier. He rushes into Palantine’s campaign office, yells at Betsy, and threatens her. One evening, a passenger instructs Travis to pull over so he can watch the shadow of a woman standing by a lit window in an apartment building. The passenger explains that she is his wife and is having an affair. He tells Travis he intends to kill her. Travis listens, occasionally glancing suspiciously at the passenger in the rearview mirror. Later, at the cafeteria, Travis confides to Wizard, an older driver, that he has been having destructive thoughts. Wizard tells Travis to stop worrying and promises he will be okay. One night, Travis almost hits Iris by accident. He follows her and a friend as they walk down the street, but the girls pick up two men on the corner. Travis discusses loneliness in his diary, and states that his life needs a change. He meets with Easy Andy who sells, among other things, guns. Travis purchases an assortment of firearms and, intent on getting into shape, begins working out, eating healthier, and taking target practice. At home, he practices pulling guns out of holsters and hiding a knife in his boot. One day, Travis attends a rally for Palantine where he talks with a secret service agent who appears suspicious of his behavior. As Travis walks away, agents try to snap a picture of him, but he disappears into the crowd. At night, Travis stops at a convenience store. When a young man holds up the cashier, Travis approaches from the back of the store and shoots the thief. He then panics because he doesn't have a gun permit, but the cashier promises to cover for him and sends him away. After he leaves, the cashier beats the unconscious criminal with a metal bar. Travis watches another campaign event from his cab, but police usher him away. At home, he writes to his parents, telling them he has a top-secret government job and a girlfriend named Betsy. He later approaches Iris and arranges a deal for her services with Sport. They go into a nearby apartment building where Iris’ timekeeper charges Travis for a room and waits in the hallway. Inside the room, Iris seduces Travis, but he rejects her advances. He explains that he came because he wants to help her escape. The next day, they meet for breakfast at a diner. Travis tells Iris he may have to go away for work, and he wants to give her money so she can leave Sport and her life as a prostitute. In the evening, alone with Sport, Iris expresses her unhappiness, but he manipulates her into staying. After more target practice and preparation, Travis arrives at another rally, having shaved his hair into a Mohawk. Travis approaches Palantine, but, when he reaches into his coat, the secret service men see him and spring into action. Travis escapes to his apartment where he regroups and heads back out, this time to the apartment building where Sport operates. Travis shoots Sport and enters the nearby building where Iris sees clients. In the hallway, he shoots Iris’ timekeeper. Having followed Travis inside, the wounded Sport shoots him in the neck, but Travis returns fire and kills the pimp. He makes his way to Iris’ room as the timekeeper, still alive, comes after him. Travis is then shot by Iris’ client, but he quickly fires back and kills the man. The timekeeper attacks Travis as he crashes into Iris’ room. After a struggle, he stabs the timekeeper and shoots him in the head while Iris looks on, terrified. Travis attempts to shoot himself next, but the guns are out of bullets. He collapses on the couch moments before the police enter. In the days that follow, news reports praise Travis as a hero, and Iris' parents send him a thank you letter for bringing their daughter back to them. After recovering from the incident, Travis returns to work. One night, he picks up Betsy, and they awkwardly discuss Palantine's nomination victory and Travis' brush with fame. At her destination, Betsy gets out of the cab and Travis throws the meter, giving her a free ride.

+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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