In 1976, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro delivered one of the most searing, disturbing dramas of all time in Taxi Driver. The film was a game changer, and like nothing we have seen before or since, despite its obvious influences. Paul Schrader’s screenplay peeled back the mind of a man slowly losing his grip on the world, and the result was unforgettable. Here are 13 things to know about the film.
1. Paul Schrader, who was suffering from extreme mental fatigue and depression during his writing, finished the screenplay in only five days. For motivation, he kept a loaded gun in his desk.
2. To prepare for his role, Robert De Niro worked twelve-hour shifts for a month as an actual NYC cab driver. During that month he also studied many different aspects of mental illness.
3. Bernard Hermann’s wife says that when Martin Scorsese, then relatively unknown, called her famous husband to ask Hermann to do the score, he at first refused saying, “I don’t write music for car movies.” Hermann only accepted after reading the script, and then wrote a highly original score using dissonant brass to punctuate the inner emotions of Travis. After the initial scoring sessions, Scorsese called his composer again, insisting that he needed one more musical cue–a sting, a single frightening chord. Hermann called back a studio orchestra who were paid a day’s work for that one effect.
4. Harvey Keitel rehearsed with actual pimps to prepare for his role. The scene where his character and Iris dance is improvised, and is one of only two scenes in the film that don’t focus on Bickle.
5. Martin Scorsese claims that the most important shot in the movie is when Bickle is on the phone trying to get another date with Betsy. The camera moves to the side slowly and pans down the long, empty hallway next to Bickle, as if to suggest that the phone conversation is too painful and pathetic to bear.
6. Before Jodie Foster was eventually cast as Iris, there were more than 250 applicants for the role, including newcomers Carrie Fisher, Mariel Hemingway, Bo Derek, Kim Cattrall, Rosanna Arquette, Kristy McNichol and Michelle Pfeiffer.
7. The scene where Travis Bickle is talking to himself in the mirror was completely ad-libbed by Robert De Niro. The screenplay details just said, “Travis looks in the mirror.”
8. According to Albert Brooks in a conversation he had with Paul Schrader after the film wrapped, Schrader had praised Brooks’ performance as Tom because that was the one character Schrader didn’t understand. Brooks was amused at that fact, given that Schrader didn’t understand the campaign manager but did understand Travis Bickle.
9. Lone assassin John Hinckley’s attempt on US President Ronald Reagan’s life on Monday, March 30, 1981 was apparently triggered by Robert De Niro’s obsessive Travis Bickle and his plot to assassinate a presidential candidate. Hinckley also tried to reach out to Jodie Foster repeatedly.
10. In the coffee and pie scene, Travis orders apple pie with melted cheese. When serial killer Ed Gein was arrested, he asked the police for a slice of apple pie with melted cheese in exchange for a full confession.
11. Robert De Niro claimed that the final shootout scene took particularly long, because of both technical problems and the humor which arose from the tension created by the carnage in the scene.
12. Scorsese’s cameo as the man in the cab planning to kill his wife is well known, but Scorsese is also visible in a brief moment earlier in the film when Travis is watching Betsy from his cab.
13. The line “You talking to me?” was voted as the #10 movie quote by the American Film Institute, and as as the #8 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007.