Robert De Niro in a scene from the film 'Taxi Driver', 1976.
Archive Photos—Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
February 8, 2016

Though Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was later selected by TIME’s Richard Schickel as one of the best movies ever, the critic didn’t exactly feel warmly toward it when it was released on Feb. 8, 1976—exactly 40 years ago.

“The taxi driver‘s shift from lonely neurotic to killer is yawningly predictable—no more informative than a Sunday supplement piece on the mind of the assassin,” Schickel wrote, noting that the film’s realism sometimes overshadowed its narrative potential. For example, the diary kept by protagonist Travis Bickle was a ripped-from-the-headlines take on the real 1970s would-be-assassin Arthur Bremer, a connection acknowledged by Scorsese himself.

Bremer was the man who shot George Wallace in May of 1972, during Wallace’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Southern segregationist candidate was left partially paralyzed by the attempted assassination, an event both familiar and shocking to a nation that had recently seen more than its share of politically-motivated killings.

By that point, there was a stereotypical profile for the kind of person who would attempt such a crime, and Bremer fit the bill—in a way that will be very familiar to viewers of Taxi Driver. Here’s what TIME said, shortly after the shooting:

As for the diary, it resurfaced that August when it was read out loud during Bremer’s trial. It revealed that Bremer was not so much motivated by particular politics as by the desire to kill someone, as he had first tried to kill President Nixon and had also thought about pursuing George McGovern. Bremer even said that he “hoped to sell [the diary] to Time Inc. for $100,000.” Instead, he was found guilty and sentenced to more than six decades in prison. His diary was eventually published, however, and in 2007 Bremer was released from prison.

Read TIME’s original review of Taxi Driver, here in the TIME Vault: Potholes

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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