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Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro's successful partnership

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s successful partnership — A look at some of the films by the legendary duo, including ”Mean Streets” and ”Taxi Driver”

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Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s successful partnership

Movies are a collaborative art form. And no collaboration is more crucial — or complex — than the one between director and star. Often it can be a shaky alliance. Sometimes, however, it’s a truly creative partnership. The teams that have made such magic are few but legendary: Think of John Ford and John Wayne, Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni. In today’s movies, perhaps the most fertile pairing is the one between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro — a team whose legend is still growing. Their sixth film together, GoodFellas, has just opened to good reviews. Here is a look at the remarkable collaborations that preceded it.

Mean Streets (Warner, 1973)
As Charlie, the junior Mafioso hung up on Catholic guilt, Harvey Keitel is clearly Scorsese’s protagonist — as well as his on-screen surrogate. But as good as he is, the movie gets stolen by De Niro’s wild and crazy Johnny Boy. In debt and out of control on the streets of Little Italy, Johnny is the id to Charlie’s superego. It is Charlie’s self-imposed penance to play guardian angel in this relationship. Yet on some level he envies Johnny’s free spirit. You get the sense that Scorsese does too. The improvisational free rein he gave De Niro set the tone for the projects to follow. But never has it seemed more spontaneous than this. A

Taxi Driver (Goodtimes or RCA/Columbia, 1976)
De Niro is spectacular as Travis Bickle, an alienated loner turned would-be assassin turned unintentional hero. But then Scorsese made things easy for him, conjuring up a hellish urban milieu that would drive even a sane man to the brink. On its way to a cathartic shootout, the film vividly evokes the squalor of Times Square as seen through twisted eyes. But perhaps the most striking social aberration is played by Scorsese himself. As a psychotically jealous husband who sits in the cab ranting about the damage a .44 pistol can do, the director has an unforgettable on-screen exchange with his star. ”You think I’m sick?” he asks Travis. He’s unwittingly soliciting an expert opinion. A

New York, New York (MGM/UA, 1977)
This revisionist version of a ’40s musical was somewhat out of character for both director and star. But, like all their collaborations, it provided a driven man for De Niro to play. As the egocentric, artistically uncompromising sax player Jimmy Doyle, De Niro seems to travel to his own bebop beat. That’s how he wins and loses Liza Minnelli, in a whirlwind affair that ends up an emotional twister. Deceptively decked out in elaborate sets, colorful costumes, and great big production numbers, the film then proceeds to dismantle ’40s movie myths about love, romance, and happy endings. After all, Scorsese was too much a realist to play it like Vincente Minnelli — and De Niro was too much an actor to play a run-of-the-mill leading man. B+

Raging Bull (MGM/UA, 1980)
In stunningly stylized black and white, Scorsese tells the story of boxer Jake LaMotta. In his Oscar-winning performance De Niro not only brings LaMotta to life, he becomes the raging bull. The final scene finds Jake sitting in front of a mirror, reciting the ”I coulda been a contender” speech from On the Waterfront for his nightclub act. This is De Niro doing LaMotta doing Brando, and you can see all that. It’s by far the subtlest touch in a performance full of haymakers. Built upon its bloody fight sequences — and its equally ugly domestic confrontations — the film is a brutally brilliant work that remains a career high for both men. So far. A+

The King of Comedy (RCA/Columbia, 1983)
In their coolest character study, Scorsese and De Niro present Rupert Pupkin, a lifelong loser whose fantasies of fame take him dangerously close to the edge. Desperate to make his dreams come true, the would-be ”king of comedy” kidnaps his talk show host idol (Jerry Lewis) in an effort to extort a shot on network TV. Amazingly, it pays off: America loves him. Like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin becomes a celebrity in spite of — and because of — his antisocial behavior. The overnight success of this borderline psycho is as chillingly ironic as the taxi driver’s was cathartic. B+