I was just watching pieces of Taxi Driver, in particular the quiet hero scene just after the massacre, and while usually all I do there is wonder if Jodie Foster’s father is supposed to sound like Jimmy Stewart, this time I froze the frame and read the newspaper clippings hanging on Travis’ wall. They describe the shootout exactly as we see it—Travis really is considered a hero for entering a building and blowing away almost everyone he meets in there—but the grafs identifying his victims refer to Harvey Keitel’s character as “Charlie Rain” instead of Matthew or Sport, which makes him a liar on top of the only white pimp in New York City. And when it wouldn’t quit ringing a bell, I remembered that “Charles Rane” is also the name of William Devane’s character in Rolling Thunder, Paul Schrader’s other script about a vengeance-minded veteran from that era.
Oddly enough, the only other nugget I recall ever gleaning from freeze-framing a movie came in The Searchers, a movie that’s practically Taxi Driver’s grandfather. For those who haven’t seen it—and I know for a fact at least a few of you haven’t—movie-buffs have been arguing for half a century about the exact motives of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, a bitter racist with some unexpectedly tender corners in his character. (If you haven’t seen it, just trust me and order the Blu-Ray today, for no movie ever looked better than this one. In fact, it’s the best possible argument there is, not just for John Wayne movies, but for Monument Valley, Technicolor, fleet horses, and the infinite genius of John Ford’s eye for composition; from the opening shot it looks like one of the most beautiful paintings you’re ever going to see. I’ll go so far as to say that if you have a problem with the movie itself, let me know and I’ll pay you for the disc. Just don’t expect me to ever speak to you again.)
Anyway…I digress! In the scene where little Debbie hides from the Comanches out by “Grandma’s” grave, we catch a quick glimpse of the tombstone:
MARY JANE EDWARDS
MAY 12, 1852
A GOOD WIFE AND MOTHER
IN HER 41ST YEAR
Now, when I say a “quick glimpse”, I mean exactly that: you have all of one frame, two at the most, before Debbie runs into the scene and crouches down in front of the epitaph—nowhere near enough time to read and absorb the information that’s written there. Knowing that Indians killed Ethan’s mother 16 years before the start of the movie goes a long way towards explaining his ringing hatred for them, but Ford, being Ford, and loathing pedestrian a=a kind of motivations, did what he could to obscure the connection. He did the same thing at the end when he cut a crucial line from Frank Nugent’s script—“You sure do favor your mother”—just before Ethan spares Debbie’s life, instead relying on his audience to remember a series of important moments early in the picture.
Anyway, I’m very proud to have this trivia at my fingertips. Now if some fine day I can only get onto Jeopardy…