One of Martin Scorsese's first and most important pictures was
TAXI DRIVER. For its 20th anniversary, there is a new print and a
remastered stereo sound track, and the picture has a new theatrical
release. Some of the hairdos make look dated, but the message it tells
is as powerful and frightening today as it was in 1976. This is a
landmark film in the history of the cinema.
Robert De Niro plays 26 year old Vietnam vet Travis Bickle.
Travis is a New York City taxi driver who willing works the nightshift
in the roughest sections of town. Prostitutes use the back seat of his
taxi as a moving bed, and people are stabbed in it. Travis is a
psychological misfit, but someone who wants this degradation cleaned
up. He, of course, does not realize that he is one of them. He says,
"someday a real rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets." He
wants to be that rain.
He falls in love with a beautiful woman in the window of a Senator
Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) for President campaign headquarters.
He finds her name is Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), and he even gets her to
go on a date with him. They both have an outward innocence that make
them appear well matched in some strange sense. When Betsy realizes
that his idea of a date is a porn movie in the sleaziest area of town,
she walks out and refuses to ever speak to him again. He is so naive
that he does not realize that taking her to a porn movie on their first
date is a faux pas.
Some of the movie has the taxi drivers at a coffee shop, a la
DINER, discussing life. After Betsy ditches him, Travis tries to
understand it all so he turns to the oldest and hence wisest taxi
driver, who goes by the nickname of Wizard (Peter Boyle). Wizard sees
his job as the shaper of his destiny and tells Travis, "You get a job.
You become the job."
The show is full of great visuals. Travis sits in front of the TV
staring with a wasted look and glazed eyes while eating his breakfast,
which consists of white bread clumps with large quantities of brandy,
sugar, and milk poured on top. In another he glares at American
Bandstand while holding a gun with a foot long barrel resting on his
There are many great minor characters. One of my favorites has
Martin Scorsese as a husband sitting in Travis's taxi watching his
philandering wife's silhouette in the window of an apartment. He turns
out to be as evil as Travis. Eventually Travis buys himself a small
arsenal of weapons. He practices the classic cinematic line, "You
talkin' to me," in the mirror while practicing drawing his guns
quasi-cowboy style. He tells himself, "Listen world. Here is a man
who stood up against the scum."
Travis meets a 12 1/2 year old prostitute named Iris who calls
herself Easy (Jodie Foster). He decides he wants to save her in
particular and mankind in general, but the problem is that she does not
want to be saved since she is used to staying with her pimp Matthew,
whom she calls Sport (Harvey Keitel). To Travis this is all a mission
as if from God, although he claims no divine inspiration. Travis says,
"Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction.
There never has been a choice for me."
In a scene reminiscent of John Hinkley, Travis goes fully armed to
a Palantine rally. The senator is delivering a pompous and meaningless
speech that parallels Travis's vision of life. The senator proclaims,
"We meet at a crossroads in history. No longer will the wrong roads be
taken." In a movie full of make up and hair styles that make a
statement, Travis shows up at the rally with a Mohawk. The ending is
suspenseful, extremely gory, and somewhat surprising. The epilogue
after that is really surprising.
So much of this study of evil is brilliant. Certainly at the top
of the list is the acting by De Niro, but close behind would be the
directing and the writing (Paul Schrader). Everyone knows what an
excellent job Jodie Foster did, but I was impressed at how Cybill
Shepherd took the almost coquettish but naive minor part and made it
interesting. Harvey Keitel had a tiny part, but managed to put a lot
The cinematography (Michael Chapman) throughout the picture is
quite effective showing the grit and the garish lights of the city, but
the slow motion sequences at the end are the best. The sets (Charles
Rosen) of New York City are suitably ugly, thus creating just the right
images. The costume design (Ruth Morley) ranged from a lovely set of
sweet dress complete with beautiful neck bands for Betsy to sinister
outfits for Travis. An impressive range.
I certainly was pleased with the remastered sound since the show
had great movie music (Bernard Herrmann). It started off with sad and
melancholic tunes and then switched to ominous ones created with a
muted trumpet. Rarely these days do films dare to have any music to
speak of, and if they do, it is frequently nothing more that loud and
overpowering rock music that turns the show into a long rock video more
suitable for MTV.
TAXI DRIVER runs a well edited, thanks to Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf,
and Melvin Shapiro, and fast 1:53. It is rated R, but borders on
NC-17. There is no sex or nudity. The language is frequently obscene,
and there are some racial epithets. The reason I say it is almost
NC-17 is solely for the gory ending. I do not think the violence is
gratuitous, and I am glad the studio did not demand a more saleable
version without the scenes. I think the picture as delivered is
brilliant. I would let teenagers see it if they are mature. I
recommend the film highly, and give it my top rating of ****.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes