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12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself

Among the 1970s accounts of abrasive men eking out lives on the fringes of society, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader's Taxi Driver towers above the rest. Their vision of an alienated veteran wandering through the streets of a New York on the brink continues to stand today as an exacting - if disturbing - encapsulation of a social type. The fact this famously spoke to similarly disaffected men is almost no surprise. Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle is a character who, distressingly, is all around us, even today.

But bringing this archetype to the screen was no easy feat. Behind the camera, the production dealt with everything from psych evaluations to warnings from wiseguys. Here are a few of the nightmares that went into pulling off Taxi Driver, now widely considered one of the best films ever made.

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  • To Appear In The Film, Jodie Foster Had To Pass A Psych Evaluation

    Given the nature of Iris, the pre-teen street worker played by Jodie Foster, the actress was subjected to rigorous testing before she was cleared to appear in the film. Some of it even included psychological evaluations.

    California's strict vetting standards for underaged performers at the time required proof their work would not lead to lasting harm. Just how thoroughly Foster was screened is questionable, however, as California's then-governor, Edmund Brown, reportedly stepped in to expedite her processing. Once she did appear on set, neither her co-stars nor the production crew had a firm grasp on how best to accommodate her, making her experience read as fairly harrowing today.

  • The Film Inspired An Attempt On Ronald Reagan's Life

    The Film Inspired An Attempt On Ronald Reagan's Life
    Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One of Taxi Driver's uglier legacies occurred when it served as an inspiration for a real-world act of inhumanity. After watching the film at least 15 times, John Hinckley Jr. developed a close identification with Travis Bickle, whose arc builds to a politically and personally motivated rampage.

    Hinckley directly mimicked Bickle's behavior by targeting the sitting president, Ronald Reagan, outside a Washington-area Hilton in a misguided attempt to impress Jodie Foster, an actress from the film with whom he had become obsessed. Police quickly apprehended him and learned his motives in subsequent interviews. After spending decades in a mental facility, he was released in 2016.

  • The Crew Had To Hire Syndicates To Protect Them From Other Syndicates

    The vision of 1970s New York as a near-fallen city has become ingrained in the popular consciousness, and this trope owes much of its popularity to films such as Serpico, The Warriors, and, of course, Taxi Driver.

    The production only had to deploy minimal effort to achieve the dilapidated state of the film's locations, as the city was already run-down when filming began. The situation was so severe that, according to producer Michael Phillips, the production enlisted the help of local syndicates to patrol the set. The ad-hoc security force had to ward off interruptions from rival groups.

  • Paul Schrader Based His Screenplay On His Personal Three-Week Bender

    Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver's writer, came to the film after a string of bad breaks. After moving away from an early career as a film critic in which none other than Pauline Kael mentored him, he transitioned into writing screenplays.

    The burst of creativity that produced Travis Bickle and his cab followed Schrader's bout of heavy drinking and depression in Los Angeles, which he embarked upon after weathering a breakup and falling into debt. When an ulcer interrupted his binge, he wrote the script while recovering and got out of town. Despite the script's seedy origins, it went on to be nominated for a WGA Award, as well as helped foster Schrader and Martin Scorsese's creative partnership.

  • The Shootout Had To Be Desaturated To Prevent An X Rating

    As Travis Bickle's alienation sets in, he behaves in an increasingly despicable manner, ranging from his infamous adult-theater date with Cybill Shepherd's Betsy to botching an attempt on the life of presidential candidate Charles Palantine.

    When Bickle finally achieves his twisted version of success, however, the MPAA nearly revolted. After Scorsese screened a print for the studio and ratings board, it was slapped with an X. To lower the rating and distribute the film to a broad audience, Scorsese desaturated the final skirmish, reducing the vividness of the blood spilling from Bickle and his marks. The tactic worked, and the film debuted as rated R.

  • Robert De Niro Got A Cab Driver's License To Prepare For The Role

    Ever the method actor, Robert De Niro prepared to play resentful veteran and cabbie Travis Bickle by driving a cab himself. In the month leading up to filming, he reportedly worked 12-hour days, in which he ferried New Yorkers throughout the city. His customers were likely clueless as to their driver's identity, given that De Niro, though prominent at the time due to Mean Streets and The Godfather: Part II, was still on his way to becoming the A-lister he is today.

    De Niro's commitment more than paid off - not only was he nominated for an Oscar for his performance, but the film sits comfortably on many lists of the best movies ever made.