Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese filming Taxi Driver (Photo via The Hollywood Reporter)
This is our second installment in our month long look back at the NYC films of Martin Scorsese. This week, we look into the locations for one Marty’s masterpieces: the depressing and violent crime film Taxi Driver. Winner of the coveted Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 and nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. This film was somewhat responsible for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. After viewing the film, John Hinckley Jr began fantasizing about killing Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Hopefully none of you try anything so drastic as we go through 10 NYC locations used in Scorsese’s classic.
In the film’s opening, Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran, gets a job driving a taxi; as he walks out we see part of the West Side Elevated Highway, also known as Miller Highway. The elevated highway was one of the first urban freeways in the world. It was plagued with problems; in 1973, a truck actually fell through the highway on 14th Street, leading to discussions about dismantling it. The only remaining sections consist of a rehabilitated path between 59th and 72nd Streets and an untouched portion of the highway, which can be found on an abandoned exit ramp on 70th Street.
Oh Times Square, how sleazy you used to be. This is our first trip to the city’s many porno theaters. At Show & Tell on 8th Avenue, Travis tries to talk to the girl at the concession stand, who wants nothing to do with him (not to worry, De Niro would eventually marry the actress in real life). Like all of the XXX cinemas of the ’70s, this place no longer exists. Today there is nothing left but a vacant lot.
Gosh, those yellow street signs look awful. This building on 63rd and Broadway serves as the NYC Headquarters for Senator Charles Palantine, who’s in the running for President of The United States. Travis could care less about politics or Charles Palantine, but he becomes obsessed with Betsy, a volunteer for the campaign. If you watch closely, Scorsese himself appears for a moment as a regular guy sitting on the stoop, watching Betsy pass by in slow motion (a favorite technique of Scorsese). The building is now a high rise, with a Bank of America on the corner where the entrance of the political headquarters use to be.
Travis picks up a woman in Times Square. He drops her off here at the Olcott Hotel. Unlike most of the locations in Taxi Driver, the hotel is still up and running. Opened in 1930, the Hotel Olcott use to charge $300-$450 dollars a month for long term residents living in studio apartments (good luck getting that now). This hotel is known for being one of the three places where John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman stayed before committing his infamous murder.
When Travis finally works up the nerve to talk to Betsy, he lays down some smooth game to get her to have coffee with him. Travis takes Betsy to a coffee shop on 58th Street and 8th Ave during her lunch break. Sorry fellas, you can’t live out your Robert De Niro/Cybill Sheperd date fantasies here, because the coffee shop no longer exists.
After a chance encounter with Senator Palantine, Travis runs into someone else crucial to his story: a young prostitute who is pulled out of his cab by her pimp. The altercation happens outside the Variety Theater on 3rd Ave, between 13th and 14th Streets. The theater used to run Nickelodeons, but later showed XXX films to stay in business. After being shut down in the late ’80s, the theater became a place to view off Broadway plays. The final curtain came down in 2004, with the building demolished to make way for condos in 2005.
It is the night of Travis and Betsy’s big date. Always one for romance, Travis decides to take Betsy to see a movie… in a porno theater. Before the Lyric became one of a seemingly endless supply of XXX theaters, it was an opera school, a theater, and a traditional movie theater. Today the building still stands, but you would know it better as the Hilton Theater.
Travis finds the young prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) and wants to save her from her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel). The site of Travis and Matthew’s first meeting—and the place where Travis takes the law into his own hands and shoots Matthew—is still there today, however you will notice the lack of a blue door. For all we know the blue could have been painted by the production team to highlight Matthew’s profession, for porno films during that time period were referred to as “blue” films.
In this building (which looks incredibly different now) is where Travis first tries to convince Iris to get away from Matthew and go back home to her parents. This is also the building where the film gets extremely violent. Inside the building—more than likely a set—Travis kills a bouncer, Sport and a random thug before trying to commit suicide, which fails as he runs out of ammo.
At the end of the film, Travis the vigilante and potential political assassin becomes a hero. Talking to a few of his other taxi drivers, Travis notices someone get into his cab outside The St. Regis Hotel. The person is none other than Betsy and she and Travis speak about his new found fame. The St. Regis Hotel has been a staple of Midtown for over one hundred years. Famous guests include Marilyn Monroe and NY Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio. The hotel also is the home of the King Cole Bar, a lounge that claims to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary.
As part of our Month of Scorsese, read about the NYC Film Locations for Mean Streets. Film stills credit: Columbia Pictures.
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