Intertitle of the Week: Taxi Driver 1928

What would the seminal Schrader-Scorsese TAXI DRIVER have been like if it had been made as a silent movie in 1928? I know we’ve all lost sleep wondering about that, but your worries are over with this smart new reconstruction of the movie as it never was. Just imagine Bernard Herrmann’s theme music played fast on a tinkly piano, and voila!
















Images (photographed — badly — off my TV screen) from TAXI DRIVER, “The End” from some British Hitchcock, intertitles from FEEL MY PULSE, a Bebe Daniels comedy directed by Gregory LaCava. Not a bad little film. Thinking about it, LaCava’s origins in silents explains his improvisational approach to dialogue somewhat. This one has William Powell as a bad guy, showing off his physical comedy skills with a great pratfall, and there’s a wild moment when a smashed bottle of chloroform sends a room full of extras into slow motion…

29 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: Taxi Driver 1928”

  1. Christopher Says:

    lol ..I watched Taxi Driver again a couple a weeks ago…and I know there is a silent equal…but can’t remember what it is!…I do remember this movie wasn’t as fascinaiting to me at the time as “Farwell My Lovely”,a good blend of old style with new…

  2. Fatty DeNiro’s finest comedy.

  3. “Fatty DeNiro” is good — maybe I should do Raging Bull. He’s more of a “Buster” in this one. Had fun doing this and will definitely try it again sometime. Hope Mr. Scorsese doesn’t see it and “pop” a “cap” in my “ass.”

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    Scorsese would likely pitch doing a TAXI DRIVER remake as a silent film instead to producers. That would be interesting, studios remaking classic talkies as silents.

    The silent film most evocative of TAXI DRIVER is Murnau’s DER LETZTE MANN which even has a strange coda similar to Scorsese’s and which is also a detailed character study and maybe portions of PANDORA’S BOX which is also psychologically complex in a way that has lasted till today. Oh can’t forget D. W. Griffith’s BROKEN BLOSSOMS, a major Scorsese favourite.

  5. The Last Laugh is one of the most psychological of the silents, so yeah, that would fit. Plus the big city setting and “a person takes a job and that job becomes who he is…” as Peter Boyle puts it. And the odd Bokononist endings do match up nicely and illuminate each other.

    Wow, this is all getting onto a much higher plane than I expected.

    If Van Sant had made his shot for shot Psycho remake as a silent movie, illustrating Hitchcock’s point that films should work on the visual level first, he’d probably have had better reviews. Keep the score, lose the dialogue! It’s the way forward! Maybe not a good route for Kevin Smith though. He should stick to radio.

  6. Arthur S. Says:

    Neither ending is realistic but they do illuminate a certain reality. In TAXI DRIVER, he’s a hero because he killed pimps and lowlives instead of a Presidential candidate, in DER LETZTE MANN, all people need is money to solve their problems, forget about an ideology that fixates on phony grandeur of uniforms and strips humanity and dignity from the proletariat, when money comes in everything’s fair and rosy again. Fassbinder(whose BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is also inspired by DER LETZTE MANN right down to Gunther Lamprecht’s resemblance to Jannings, though he’s better looking) actually made a similar point when he defended the “happy ending” of MOTHER KUSTERS TRIP TO HEAVEN which he applied for the American release and stated that he actually preferred that to the very unsatisfying climax for the European general release.

    On the other hand some happy endings are genuinely brainless and dumb. Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS is Exhibit A. By far the greatest film to boast an absurd ending(which weirdly enough was re-used for the third Matrix film).

    Maybe not a good route for Kevin Smith though. He should stick to radio.

    Hey don’t put down radio…Welles’ radio work is already motion picture soundtracks without images. Smith’s use of sound doesn’t even come close.

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    PSYCHO uses a lot of silent film techniques but with a different register. Like the close-up of Janet Leigh driving and showing her mindset would have been done by super-impositions in the silent period over her face illustrating her fears, in Hitchcock we hear what she thinks is being said about her and the power of the scene rises exponentially. Similarly, the carefully detailed depiction of her actions, the placement of the money in the newspapers following her into the toilet so that she removes the money.

    Then the chase scene between the cop with the insect glares and her is in the silent tradition, especially that striking expressionistic shot of the cop standing imperiously across the road in front of his car. The biggest loss is of course the parlour conversation between Norman and Marion, the best scene of the film. The second half of the film with Lila especially the scene where she enters Mother’s room is very much in the expressionist tradition.

  8. Quite true, Arthur. There’s very little dialogue in the bulk of Psycho. As for Taxi Driver, Warning Shadows would be a good silent model, IMO.

  9. It’s absurd, but I’ve still to watch Warning Shadows. Perhaps because I liked Robison’s Student of Prague so much, I’m alarmed that I only have two more of his films to look at, so I’m saving them up. Which is absurd! I could die tomorrow!

    The “traps” conversation in Psycho could be roughed in with a few title cards, but it would indeed lose much. But the rest would play pretty well. Maybe when I review one of the better known Hitch films I should take the Master at his word and watch it with the sound down?

  10. I would love to see Taxi Driver as a pre-code film. For that matter, Miller’s Crossing would be great as a pre-code film.

  11. Oh, why bother with Miller’s Crossing? Just do the original Hammet book, The Glass Key! It’s mostly the same anyway.

  12. The “traps” conversation in Psycho is the essence of Eric Rohmer. He restages it in Ma Nuit Chez Maud. Yes the dialogue is different, but the framing cutting and “beats” are the same.

  13. Arthur S. Says:

    Fascinating…Rohmer is not everyone’s first idea of a Hitchcockian film-maker(even if he co-wrote with Chabrol the first book length study on Hitchcock) but the influence of that scene in PSYCHO is pretty strong. It’s as close to a philosophical statement as you’ll find in his films. Norman saying we’re born in our private traps and Marion saying that sometimes we walk into these traps. And what makes it painfully sad is how it works out for both of them. One thing that people never point out about the film is that as scary as it is, it is profoundly and deeply sad and very bleak.

    I’ve never seen Warning Shadows, what’s it about?

  14. Christopher Says:

    wooster and jeeves in Psych Ho!

  15. “We all go a little mad sometimes, don’t we sir?”

    “I suppose so, Jeeves.”

  16. David Boxwell Says:

    Taxi Driver! (aka “Follow That Cab!” for its severely truncated 1940 re-release) A First National Picture, 1932

    Screenplay: Kubec Glasmon
    Camera: Sol Polito, Barney McGill
    Director: William Wellman[uncr: Roy del Ruth, Michael Curtiz]

    Travis: James Cagney
    Iris: Dawn O’Day
    Sport: Warren William
    Wizard: Allen Jenkins
    Betsy: Loretta Young
    Tom: Lyle Talbot

  17. David Boxwell Says:

    “Miller’s Crossing” A Tiffany Studios Premiere Production, 1929 [part-talkie]

    Screenplay: Joseph Moncure March and Roland West
    Camera: Dev Jennings
    Production Design and Costumes: Max Ree
    Producer & Director: Roland West [uncr. James Whale]

    Tom Reagan: James Hall
    Verna: Thelma Todd
    Bernie: Ricardo Cortez
    Leo: Warner Baxter
    Mink: George E. Stone
    Johnny Caspar: Leo Carillo
    Eddie Dane: Paul Kelly

  18. Christopher Says:

    lol…I think I’ve seen that Cagney Taxi Driver..Which would explain that feeling of Deja vu I experianced when first i saw the Scorcese Taxi..great casting.. allen jenkins for sure..
    ..I was trying to think how Psycho is like a silent picture..and all I could come up with is that it would make a decent Laurel and which the boys steal money from the bank(something they’d never do willingly) and hit the road only to run afoul of Kennedy the Cop when they try to switch Cars….and then I suppose it turns into The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case with a little bit of Oliver the Eighth thrown in..

  19. That works pretty good! I somehow see them sitting in a Model T Ford getting pulled from a swamp. “This is another fine mess…”

    “Raging Bull” A First National Release (had to be) 1933

    Screenplay: John Monk Saunders and Ben Hecht

    Young Jake: Douglas Fairbanks Jnr
    Old Jake: Guy Kibbee
    Vickie: Jean Harlow
    Joey: Frank McHugh
    Salvy: Edward Arnold

  20. David Boxwell Says:

    Harlow was a proto-“Vickie” in Tod Browning’s 1931 boxing drama IRON MAN. Which may be his greatest overlooked film of all.

    Guy Kibbee as Old Jake: perfect.

  21. Christopher Says:

    gee..I wonder how Warners would have handled The Gangs of New York..?Dead Rabbits,Dead End Kids,Ducky boys and Pat O’Brien..
    ..I’ve never seen Iron Man..I don’t think?…I’m gonna look for it..

  22. I recently enjoyed The Thirteenth Chair, so I’m definitely up for more early talkie Browning.

    The Bowery is kind of like Gangs of New York but with more of a story. Jackie Cooper as Leo DiCaprio, George Raft as D-Day Lewis?

  23. Arthur S. Says:

    No. Wallace Beery is Daniel Day Lewis and George Raft is Leo DiCaprio…it’s a direct echo of the older man-young turk rivalry in the Scorsese. Whereas Jackie Cooper is to Wallace Beery what young Leo is to Liam Neeson. One thing I love about THE BOWERY is the electricity between Beery and Raft, neither actor is better anywhere else than they are here.

    In any case there was a film made near the end of the 30s called THE GANGS OF NEW YORK which has a screenplay by the young pre-WWII Samuel Fuller. Whether they just borrowed the title from Asbury because it’s cool or it’s an adaptation of sorts, I really don’t know.

    And I don’t know what you mean that THE BOWERY has more story than GANGS OF NEW YORK, it’s better structured certainly but the latter film has a Civil War, a bloody riot, immigration and political mobility as its themes in addition to an operatic revenge tragedy thrown in for good measure.

  24. Well, Gangs has more incident, certainly, and plenty of themes, but the central revenge plot is broken-backed. DiCaprio is out for revenge, but he doesn’t take it. Why? Well, in Hamlet there’s a fistful of reasons. Here, there’s the half-baked idea about needing to kill him in a Chinese restaurant: LDC’s VO tells us this is the honorable thing to do. But when he tries it, D-Day doesn’t think it’s honorable at all. Who’s right? Then D-Day doesn’t kill Leo, which I’ll just about buy if he has a death wish himself, but really, the central spine doesn’t hold. I think that’s what people mean when they say it’s a bad film — obviously all the surrounding stuff is very good indeed, but the thread that should hold it together gives out about thirty minutes in.

  25. Arthur S. Says:

    The reason Bill spares him and leaves him scarred instead is because Liam Neeson did the same thing to him as he tells him before in that American Flag scene. Neeson could have killed him but he let him live and Butcher anguished at the dishonour tore out his eye and put a glass one with the American eagle for an iris.

    And Leo DiCaprio doesn’t kill Bill the Butcher because he likes him and is drawn to him as a father figure since he’s after all an orphan boy. The killing of the father revenge story is part of the tribal culture inherent in gang life. And that tribal aspect is a core theme of the film since this film is about New York when it wasn’t yet a city, but a furnace from which one day a city might be born. The film is really about the changing kinds of civilizations, from tribes to communities to political parties and of course how that ties in with the project of America dreamed up by the Founders.

    The film’s vision of urban development is that of warring factions – the municipals versus the state, the state versus the country and the country is itself in the midst of a civil war by a group of states. That might have been compromised by the love story between Cameron Diaz(who is good in some scenes for what it’s worth) and Leo but that vision is still there.

    I think GANGS OF NEW YORK is a real American masterpiece, an American epic of a kind the world will never see again. It’s a film that questions the very purpose and future of its nation in a way that NASHVILLE did or before that THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE by Ford.

  26. I don’t know what else to say about this except….HA!


  27. That intertitle, amusingly enough, comes from a scene in Feel My Pulse where a drunk man sings “My Adelaide.”

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