Between the time Robert De Niro signed a thirty-five thousand dollar contract to appear in this film, and when it began filming, he won an Oscar for his role in The Godfather: Part II (1974), and his profile soared. The producers were terrified that De Niro would ask for a deserved large pay raise, since Columbia Pictures was very discomfited by the project, and were looking for excuses to pull the plug on it, but De Niro said he would honor his original deal so the film would get made.
When Paul Schrader was first writing the script, he believed that he was just writing about "loneliness", but as the process went on, he realized he was writing about "the pathology of loneliness". His theory being that, for some reason, some "young men" (such as Schrader himself) subconsciously push others away to maintain their isolation, even though the main source of their torment is this very isolation.
Director 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.
Jodie Foster was twelve-years-old when the movie was filmed, so she could not do the more explicit scenes (her character was also twelve-years-old). Connie Foster, Jodie's older sister, who was nineteen when the film was produced, was cast as her body double for those scenes.
The story was partially autobiographical for Paul Schrader, who suffered a nervous breakdown while living in Los Angeles. He was fired from the AFI, basically friendless, in the midst of a divorce, and was rejected by a girlfriend. Squatting in his ex-girlfriend's apartment while she was away for a couple of months, Schrader literally didn't talk to anyone for many weeks, went to porno theaters, and developed an obsession with guns. Schrader was working at the time as a delivery man for a chain of chicken restaurants. Spending long days alone in his car, he felt, I might as well be a taxi driver. He also shared with Bickle the sense of isolation from being a mid-Westerner in an urban center. Schrader decided to switch the action to New York City only because taxi drivers are far more common there. Schrader's script clicked with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro when they read it.
Jodie Foster claims that Robert De Niro would regularly phone her up and suggest they have coffee together. They would then rehearse the diner scene over and over to the point where Foster got bored, but still De Niro would insist they continue rehearsing.
Robert De Niro has said that, despite having won an Oscar for The Godfather: Part II (1974), he was still a relatively unfamiliar face, and was only actually recognized once while driving a New York cab during his research for this film.
John Hinckley's attempt on U.S. President Ronald Reagan's life (Monday, March 30, 1981) was apparently triggered by Robert De Niro's obsessive Travis Bickle, and his plot to assassinate a Presidential candidate. Coincidentally, the assassination attempt caused the 53rd Academy Awards ceremonies to be postponed for one day, until Tuesday, March 31, 1981, when De Niro won his Best Actor Oscar for Raging Bull (1980).
Bernard Herrmann'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. Shortly after that ultimate session, Hermann died at the age of sixty-four. He had begun his film career in Hollywood writing the music for Citizen Kane (1941).
Harvey Keitel was originally offered the part of the campaign worker, eventually played by Albert Brooks. He decided to take the role as the pimp, even though in the script, he was black, and only had about five lines.
In Paul Schrader's original screenplay, the characters of Sport, the Mafioso, and the hotel clerk were all black. Martin Scorsese felt that, combined with other events in the film, this would have stacked the deck too much towards racism, and suggested that those characters be changed to white men. Schrader relented.
Martin Scorsese has said he offered the role of Travis Bickle to Dustin Hoffman. According to Hoffman, he turned the role down because he "thought he (Scorsese) was crazy!" He has since regretted his decision.
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.
Martin Scorsese was reluctant to edit the climactic (and very bloody) shoot-out to avoid an X rating. However, he was amused by the changes ordered by the MPAA, because they made the final scene even more shocking than had originally been intended.
Producer Julia Phillips told in her autobiography that Cybill Shepherd had a hard time remembering her lines during the coffee-and-pie scene with Robert De Niro. She wrote that De Niro in particular was getting fed up with her, and that Phillips and Editor Marcia Lucas laughed over all the unusable footage they had to work with in the editing room.
The clash between Martin Scorsese, the MPAA and the executives at Columbia Pictures over the violent content of this film has gone into legend. One of the biggest rumors is that, when facing an X-rating from the MPAA and having to edit the film, Scorsese stayed up all night drinking with a loaded gun in his hand, preparing to shoot the executive at Columbia Pictures the next day. After an entire night of persuasion from his friends, Scorsese decided to mute the colors in the violent climax, and subsequently got his R-rating. There are many variations on this legend, one saying that Scorsese was planning to take his own life; another says that he brought the gun to Columbia Pictures and threatened the executive until the executive relented.
Travis Bickle's famous "You talkin' to me?" scene may have been inspired by Robert De Niro's training under Stella Adler, who (as an exercise) had her students practice different interpretations of a similar phrase. The legendary acting teacher was surprised to see one of her former students use "You talkin' to me?" as a psychotic mantra. Martin Scorsese was encouraging De Niro just below the camera while shooting the scene, which led to the rest of the "dialogue" Bickle has with his mirror.
Producer Julia Phillips claimed Martin Scorsese cast Cybill Shepherd as Betsy because of the size of her bottom, which added to her sex appeal. Phillips further revealed that Scorsese and Shepard had a difficult relationship on-set, with Scorsese having to feed Shepherd line readings to achieve a credible performance.
Paul Schrader was inspired to write the script after reading the published diary of Arthur Bremer, the man who was convicted of shooting Presidential hopeful George Wallace. Eerily, Bremer was twenty-six-years-old in 1976 (the year the film was released), the same age as Travis Bickle in the film, and Schrader was twenty-six when he first wrote the screenplay, in 1972.
Brian De Palma was also considered to direct, but the producers were dragged to a private screening of Mean Streets (1973) (Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese's previous collaboration) before they told Scorsese he could direct, but only if he got De Niro to play the lead. De Palma later regretted not directing the film.
Due to injuries sustained in an accident during the production of The Farmer (1977), George Memmoli had to decline the bit part of Travis' disturbed passenger, who was ultimately played by Martin Scorsese.
Bernard Herrmann wasn't going to write the score for this film, but agreed to do it when he saw the scene where Bickle pours Schnapps on his bread. Herrmann died on Christmas Eve of 1975, just a few hours after completing the recording sessions for this film, and the movie was dedicated to his memory.
The cab Travis drove was Checker. They stopped production after 1982, and the last one in New York City was retired in 1999. De Niro's temporary hack number was: 265216. The official taxicab driver's license issued by New York City had an expiration date of May 31, 1976.
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.
Oliver Stone believes he was one of the models for Travis Bickle, pointing out that he was being taught by Martin Scorsese at New York University film school at the time, and like Travis, he was a Vietnam veteran turned New York City cabdriver, and wore his olive drab Army coat while on-duty.
Even though then twelve-year-old Jodie Foster played a very adult role in the movie, she would have been ineligible to attend the premiere unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian, due to the R-rating.
The restaurant where the cabbies gather to eat, was a real-life hangout for taxi drivers called the Belmore Cafeteria at 28th Street and Park Avenue South. It has since been demolished, but the apartment building that replaced it is named the Belmore.
Before becoming a star, Robert De Niro thought about writing a screenplay himself. One of the ideas he had was, in the words of biographer Shawn Levy, "about a lonely man wandering New York City with guns and dreaming of an assassination." It never went any further than the idea stage, but it was an eerie coincidence when De Niro found Paul Schrader and this film a few years later.
Around the time Tony Bill was considering directing the movie, the Paul Schrader script was sent to Al Pacino, but he declined the role. Julia Phillips never knew whether Pacino declined the role because he didn't like the script, or because he didn't want to work with Bill.
The apartment building where Iris lived was 226 East 13th Street, as seen on an exterior shot, as well as in the Then-and-Now Special Feature on the two-disc DVD. As a sad coda to the movie, in 1988, as reported by the New York Times, two young girls were killed when the stoop outside this address collapsed, crushing them both.
According to Amy Taubin's book, the character of Iris was partially inspired by Paul Schrader's memory of 1950s Coppertone ads. Jodie Foster had her acting debut in a Coppertone ad when she was three-years-old.
In the lyrics to their song "Red Angel Dragnet", long-running British rock band The Clash mention Travis by name, and then include two Travis quotes: "one of these days I'm gonna get myself organized", and, "all the animals come out at night: queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick venal, some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets."
Very few changes were made to Paul Schrader's script from the first draft pitched to Martin Scorsese to the final draft. However, Scorsese allowed a great deal of improvisation in the final cut of the film.
The character of Tom originally had very few lines in the script, but Albert Brooks worked with Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader in fleshing out the role. Brooks was also allowed to improvise during filming.
When Brian De Palma was attached to the project, he wanted Melanie Griffith to play Iris, but after two weeks of casting, both Griffth and De Palma were fired. Martin Scorsese replaced Griffith with Linda Blair. However, Blair also withdrew, and Scorsese later replaced Blair with Jodie Foster, but there were more than two hundred applicants for the role. Scorsese said that Jodie had the ability to play a twelve-year-old prostitute.
In an interview with Roger Ebert upon the film's release, Martin Scorsese called it "my feminist film ... because it takes macho to its logical conclusion. The better man is the man who can kill you. This (movie) shows that kind of thinking, shows the kinds of problems some men have, bouncing back and forth between (their perception of women as) goddesses and whores."
Robert De Niro, having just broken out with The Godfather: Part II (1974), was being offered five hundred thousand dollars to star in other films, but did this for thirty-five thousand dollars. Paul Schrader agreed to take about the same amount for his screenplay, despite having just sold another one (The Yakuza (1974)) for ten times that amount. The rest of the main cast and Martin Scorsese also worked for less than normal. Cybill Shepherd took thirty-five thousand dollars; and Scorsese made sixty-five thousand dollars. The total budget was around 1.8 million dollars, of which, less than two hundred thousand dollars went to talent salaries.
Bickle's attempted assassination of Senator Charles Palantine inspired John Hinckley, Jr.'s attempted assassination of U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Prior to the crime, Hinckley had been stalking Jodie Foster at Yale Iniversity, due to his obsession with her character Iris in Taxi Driver (1976). In a letter wrote to Foster, he told her that he was going to assassinate the President, so he could impress her. Reagan was shot in the chest and wounded by Hinckley, Jr., who was committed to a psychiatric facility when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982. He was released on September 10, 2016, after thirty-four years in confinement.
In 1988, two young girls were killed when out playing on the front stoop of the apartment building at 226 East 13th Street, which features prominently in the ending of the movie following the shoot-out; collapsed. Building inspectors at the scene said they had found corroded angle irons under the stoop of the six-story walk-up, which was built around the turn of the century, and most likely gave-in due to age.
Paul Schrader decided to make Bickle a Vietnam veteran because the national trauma of the war seemed to blend perfectly with Bickle's paranoid psychosis, making his experiences after the war more intense and threatening. Thus, Bickle chooses to drive his taxi anywhere in the city as a way to feed his hatred.
As Robert De Niro and Cybill Shepherd walk past him, the street drummer says "now back to Gene Krupa syncopated style". This line was sampled by British band Apollo Four Forty for their song "Krupa". The track appeared on their 1997 album "Electro Glide in Blue".
The film was shot on a tight schedule largely on-location in 1974 during a sweltering New York City summer. The conditions of the shoot helped define the film, from the night shooting during a heat wave ("there's an atmosphere at night that's like a seeping kind of virus") to the street shooting during the garbage strike ("everywhere I aimed the camera, there were mounds of garbage").
When Betsy enters the campaign headquarters in slow motion, and Martin Scorsese is sitting by the door, the guy coming out of the headquarters, who is holding the door for her, is wearing a Columbia Pictures t-shirt turned inside out. Columbia Pictures is the studio that released the film.
The weapons that Travis uses are: a Smith & Wesson Model 29 with an eight-inch barrel, a nickel Smith & Wesson Model 36 with a square butt, mother-of-pearl grips with a flared flat cylinder release hatch, a Smith & Wesson Escort, Astra Constable .32 LR.
Columbia Pictures wanted the entirety of the climactic shoot-out cut from the film, due to its graphic violence. When Martin Scorsese became frantic that the studio was attempting to sabotage his film, he showed his friend, Steven Spielberg, the scene out of context without the rest of the film. Afterward, Spielberg agreed the scene was brilliant, and that cutting the scene would be detrimental. It was shortly after this meeting that Scorsese got the idea to de-saturate the color in the scene as seen in the final film.
In Paul Schrader's original screenplay, Iris was named Garth and had an attention span of about twenty seconds. He re-wrote her character after inadvertently picking up an underage prostitute. He later sent Martin Scorsese a note saying "Iris is in my room. We're having breakfast at nine. Will you please join us?"
This film draws many parallels with serial killer David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam". He and Travis were mentally ill ex-soldiers who were disgusted by what they saw as the degradation of mid 1970's New York City, both were insomniacs, both used .44 caliber revolvers, and Berkowitz worked as a taxi driver before famously joining the Post Office. Although Berkowitz had already committed non-fatal stabbings and arson before the release of the film in February 1976, he did not begin his shooting spree until several months afterwards. It is unknown whether Berkowitz ever saw this movie.
Tatum O'Neal was offered the part of Iris, but she turned it down, telling the producers, "It's too small! After all, I am an Oscar winner you know!" Instead she took the role of Amanda Wuerlitzer in The Bad News Bears (1976). Ironically, Jodie Foster was originally offered the role of Amanda, but she turned it down to play Iris. Tatum later said she would have preferred to have played Iris.
Martin Scorsese's mother Catherine was supposed to have a cameo as a passenger in one of the scenes in Travis' taxi. Her cameo was eventually cut out of the film because the length of the movie was becoming too long.
Steven Spielberg visited the music recording sessions of this movie to tell Composer Bernard Herrmann how much he admired his work. The prickly Hermann responded, "Oh Yeah? Then why do you always use John Williams for your films?"
Xzibit sampled the "Listen you fuckers, you screwheads, Here's a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is..." speech for the title track of his 1996 album "At The Speed Of Life".
The film's most famous musical theme, the sensuous, saxophone-driven "So Close to Me Blues", was only partly composed by Bernard Herrmann. Martin Scorsese wanted a smooth jazz cue to underscore a scene with Iris and her pimp "Sport". Jazz was not Herrmann's forte, so he asked his friend Christopher Palmer to arrange something from his existing material. Palmer took the first four bars of the song "As the Wind Bloweth" from Hermann's 1970 musical "The King of Schnorrers", expanded the melodic line with a jazzy twist, and gave the piece a new title. Herrmann was so pleased with the result, he made it a recurring motif throughout the film.
When they have dinner for the first time, Travis cracks a joke about "being organiz-ized" which Betsy doesn't seem to get. Later, when Travis is writing his diary, we can see the poster in his room that reads "One day I will get organiz-ized" with a picture of man sleeping in his chair and the letters "ized" seem to be falling down as if the man in the picture slept while he was completing the sentence.
While filming the movie near Times Square, Martin Scorsese shot footage of protesters throwing smoke bombs at a theater that was screening Coonskin (1975), He sent the footage to Ralph Bakshi, who said of it "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
The soundtrack recording sessions for this movie were held in Burbank, California on December 22 and December 23, 1975. Composer Bernard Herrmann was terminally ill with heart disease, and could not conduct the orchestra himself. That task was given to veteran Arranger and Conductor Jack Hayes, while Herrmann directed from the control booth. A few hours after the sessions wrapped, on the morning of December 24, Herrmann died in his sleep at the Sheraton Universal Hotel. His daughter Dorothy recalled, "I knew he was dying. He was just a shadow of his former self, and it was remarkable that he could have written 'Taxi Driver' under the circumstances. How he did it, I'll never know, but I think it must have had something to do with the fact that he wanted to keep working right up until the end of his life."
In 1976, Martin Scorsese held a private screening of his film at New York's Plaza Hotel for a small group of friends that included his parish priest and lifelong mentor Reverend Francis Principe. After the screening, the Catholic priest commented, "I'm glad you ended it on Easter Sunday, and not on Good Friday." For many years afterward, this comment was often misquoted as "too much Good Friday, not enough Easter Sunday", and erroneously attributed to Marty's New York University teacher Haig Manoogian.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Many critics and fans have speculated that Travis Bickle actually died during the climatic shoot-out, and the scenes where he recovers, is thanked by Iris' parents via letter, and talks to Betsy when she happens to ride in his taxi by chance, are either his dying delusions, or pure fantasy. Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader both provided commentary on LaserDisc and DVD releases of the film, that deny this theory. Scorsese said that the cab ride with Travis and Betsy is a real event, with Travis' ambiguous look after she leaves the cab indicating uncertainty over his own thoughts. Schrader's comments were that Travis "is not cured" after surviving the shoot-out, and he added "next time, he's not going to be a hero."
Robert De Niro's Mohawk was not real, due to the fact that De Niro still had to shoot scenes for the film with hair after the Mohawk portions. Make-up Artist Dick Smith created a bald cap that was glued to De Niro's head, and the Mohawk was made of thick horse hair. That hairpiece is currently at the Museum of Moving Images in Astoria, New York.
Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter speculated that Travis Bickle's character wasn't a Vietnam War veteran at all, and his behavior could indicate a man so disturbed, that he chose a war veteran "look" as a way to somehow connect to the post-war society. However, Martin Scorsese has confirmed in interviews that Bickle was definitely a Vietnam veteran. He said that Bickle's mental instability tied into the nation's feelings after the war ended in 1975, and also that the Mohawk haircut Travis gets before the climatic violent rampage was inspired by soldiers in Vietnam who would have their hair styled that way before major battles.
Due to the bloody content of the brothel shoot-out scene, Cinematographer Michael Chapman agreed to desaturate the colors in post-production. This explains why the blood appears to be pink instead of red in that scene. Later, when the DVD was being prepared, Martin Scorsese wanted to replace it with the original shot, with the blood in its original vivid redness, but no print of that original scene could be found, so the DVD still has the muted colors.
When Bickle decides to assassinate Senator Palantine, he cuts his hair into a Mohawk. This detail was suggested by Victor Magnotta, a friend of Martin Scorsese's who had a small role as a Secret Service Agent, and who had served in Vietnam. Scorsese later noted, "Magnotta had talked about certain types of soldiers going into the jungle. They cut their hair in a certain way; looked like a Mohawk, and you knew that was a special situation, a commando kind of situation, and people gave them wide berths, we thought it was a good idea."
Taking place in an actual apartment, the tracking shot over the murder scene at the end took three months of preparation, just because the production team had to cut through the ceiling in order to get it right.
On the LaserDisc audio commentary, Martin Scorsese acknowledged several critics' interpretation of the film's ending as being Bickle's dying dream. He admits that the last scene of Bickle glancing at an unseen object, implies that Bickle might fall into rage and recklessness in the future, and he is like "a ticking time bomb". Paul Schrader confirms this in his commentary on the 30th Anniversary DVD, stating that Travis "is not cured by the movie's end", and that "he's not going to be a hero next time." When asked on the website Reddit about the film's ending, Schrader said that it was not to be taken as a dream sequence, but that he envisioned it as returning to the beginning of the film, as if the last frame "could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again."