When Jake LaMotta steps into a boxing ring and obliterates his opponent, he's a prizefighter portrayed in this Martin Scorsese film by Robert De Niro. But when he treats his family and friends the same way, he's a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any moment. Though LaMotta wants his family's love, something always seems to come between them. Perhaps it's his violent bouts of paranoia and jealousy. This kind of rage helped make him a champ, but in real life, he winds up in the ring alone. If you never thought boxing cinematography could be breathtaking, check out Michael Chapman's handiwork.
Robert De Niro ... Jake La Motta
Cathy Moriarty ... Vickie Thailer
Joe Pesci ... Joey La Motta
Frank Vincent ... Salvy Batts
Nicholas Colasanto ... Tommy Como
Theresa Saldana ... Lenore
Mario Gallo ... Mario
Frank Adonis ... Patsy
Joseph Bono ... Guido
Frank Topham ... Toppy
Lori Anne Flax ... Irma
Charles Scorsese ... Charlie
Don Dunphy ... Himself
Bill Hanrahan ... Eddie Eagan
"Raging Bull" isn't the average, stereotypical underdog boxing movie, because it isn't really about boxing at all. Like most great movies, its focus is much deeper. It came out in 1980, earned Robert De Niro a Best Actor Academy Award, and was marked down as another solid triumph by director Martin Scorsese, whose previous 1976 outing with De Niro earned them both critical acclaim (and for De Niro, an Oscar nomination, although he would actually earn an Oscar for "Raging Bull" four years later).
It dwindled in production hell for quite some time, with Scorsese's drug use halting production and only the duo's strong willpower that kept the project moving ahead. It was after De Niro read boxer Jake LaMotta's memoirs that he knew he wanted to make the film, so Scorsese and De Niro turned to Paul Schrader for a script. Schrader, who had previously written "Taxi Driver" (1976), agreed, and wrote the screenplay for them. The rest is history.
"Raging Bull" has often been regarded as the greatest film of the 80s. To be honest, I'm not so sure about that, since various genres offer different feelings and emotions (comparing this to a comedy might seem rather silly). But to say it is one of the most powerful films of all time would be no gross overstatement -- it is superb film-making at its finest.
De Niro gained 60 pounds to play LaMotta, which was an all-time record at the time (later beaten by Vincent D'Onofrio, who gained 70 pounds for Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket"). His physical transformation is on-par with any great screen makeover, especially the most recent, ranging from Willem Dafoe in "Shadow of the Vampire" to Charlize Theron in "Monster." In addition, co-star Joe Pesci also lost weight for his role of Joey, LaMotta's short, eccentric brother. The greatest scene in the film is when LaMotta accuses his brother of having an affair with his wife. The tension is raw, the dialogue amazing, and the overall intensity electrifying.
The film is most often compared to "Rocky," more than any other, apparently because they both concern a certain level of boxing. As much as I absolutely adore "Rocky," "Raging Bull" is a deeper, more realistic film. But whereas "Raging Bull" is raw, "Rocky" is inspiring, and that is one of the reasons I do not think these two very different motion pictures deserve comparison, for the simple fact that they are entirely separate from one another. The only connecting thread is the apparently central theme of boxing, which is used as a theme in "Rocky," and a backdrop in "Raging Bull." They're entirely different motion pictures -- one uplifting, the other somewhat depressing -- and the people who try to decide which is better need to seriously re-evaluate their reasons for doing so. They both succeed splendidly well at what they are trying to do, and that's all I have to say about their so-called connection.
De Niro, who could justifiably be called the greatest actor of all time, is at the top of his game here. In "Taxi Driver" he displayed a top-notch performance. He wasn't just playing Travis Bickle -- he was Travis Bickle. And here he is Jake LaMotta, the infamous boxer known for his abusive life style and somewhat paranoid delusions during his reign as world middleweight boxing champion, 1949 - 1951. Throughout the film, he beats his wife (played expertly and convincingly by the 19-year-old Cathy Moriarty), convinced that she is cheating on him, and that is more or less what the film is truly about. The boxing is just what he does for a living, and could be considered as a way to release some of his deeper, harbored anger.
LaMotta has a close relationship with Joey, his brother, and their interaction is often what elevates the film above others of its genre. The dialogue is great, close to the perfection of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," rich in that rapid-fire filthy language and brutal insults. Pesci, who was on the verge of quitting showbiz at the time of pre-production, was spotted by De Niro in a cheap B-movie named "The Death Collector" (1975), a.k.a. "Family Business," a truly horrid film that nevertheless showcased an early sign of things to come for Pesci. De Niro wanted him for the movie and his premonition was either very lucky or very wise -- this is one of the best performances of Pesci's entire career.
Scorsese shot the film in muted black and white, portraying a certain era of depression and misery. To make the blood show up on screen during the occasional fight scenes, Scorsese used Hershey's Syrup -- which is an interesting tidbit of trivia for any aspiring film-making planning on filming a violent movie in black and white. But how often does that happen?
This is certainly one of the most intense films Scorsese has directed, and one of the most important of his career. Along with "Taxi Driver," it is an iconic motion picture that will stand the test of time for years and years to come.
Scorsese and De Niro's partnership over the years has resulted in some of the most influential and utterly amazing motion pictures of all time: "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "The King of Comedy," "Goodfellas" and "Casino" come to mind almost instantly. But perhaps the one single title that will be remembered as their most daring effort is "Raging Bull," a motion picture so utterly exhilarating that it defies description. It is simply a masterpiece for the mind and senses, leaving you knocked out cold after its brutal one-two punch. If I had to assemble a list of required viewing, this would be up there towards the top.
Easily one of the most powerful films I have ever seen. I have watched it at least ten times, and it only gets better and better with each viewing. Martin Scorsese is absolutely the greatest filmmaker of the last quarter century, and this film is his best. The story of how boxer Jake LaMotta watched his career and marriage crumble under the weight of his violent temper and deep-rooted misogyny is told with no punches pulled (excuse the bad pun), as Deniro (in what may be his best performance) and Scorsese unflinchingly explore what drove this man over the edge, and what ultimately may have pulled him back. The boxing scenes easily rank with the most brutal and violent moments ever put on film, shot in stark, unadorned black and white and utilizing unlikely sounds including shattering windows and animal cries to great effect. Thelma Schoonmaker's jarring, discordant editing in these scenes also deserves special mention. The scenes of domestic violence are not for the faint of heart, but there is really no other way to tell this story. If there is a more perfect exploration of why as men we act the way we do, then I'd love to see it, because this movie made me re-evaluate my life. 10/10
The first surprising thing about Raging Bull as a film is its black and white photography, with the only colour footage being the short home video sequence of La Motta's wedding. Originally, the decision to shoot the film in black and white was based specifically on cinematographer Michael Chapman and Martin Scorsese's memories of 1940's boxing bouts, which they remembered as black and white flash photos in magazines. People's memories of Jake La Motta's fights would have been black and white ones and therefore it seemed right to shoot in black and white, even though at first they had fears this would be seen as too pretentious. The particular visual intensity of the fight scenes, however, was partly due to financial difficulties rather than directorial choices. In an attempt to keep the picture on schedule, two separate lighting styles had to be adopted. Jake's life outside the ring would be kept as simple as possible, and this meant that the scenes in the ring could be concentrated on more. They would be shot entirely in the Los Angeles studio and would be highly stylised. This is how the dazzling visual nature of the fight scenes was allowed to come about. Scorsese, suffering from a low point in his career, was convinced this film would be his last and wanted to go out with a bang. Hence he decided to give the fighting scenes all he could, since he had nothing to lose anymore.
What Scorsese disliked about the previous boxing films he had seen was the way the fights were shown from ringside, adopting a spectator's view, which protected the audience from the brutality inside the ring. For Raging Bull, Scorsese was determined to get as close as possible to the raw violence of the fights. He would film inside the ring and make the audience feel every punch. His plan was to shoot the fight scenes as if the viewers were the fighter, and their impressions were the fighter's, and never to insulate the audience from the violence in the ring. The viewers would think, feel, see and hear everything the boxers would. Aside from the opening fight, La Motta's first professional defeat against Jimmy Reeves, there would be no cuts to the baying of the crowd. For the Reeves fight Scorsese chose to include some chaotic backlash from the crowd showing their disapproval of the judge's decision, but apart from this scene, Scorsese's mantra throughout the film was 'Stay in the ring'. Each intricately choreographed fight would have a different style in order to reflect La Motta's different states of mind at the time of the fights.
Jake La Motta was consultant for the film, and the fights were depicted as he remembered them. For example, in his second fight against Sugar Ray Robinson, the ring is wide and brightened by the radiant white of the canvas making the scene feel free and open, and a relatively comfortable atmosphere. This is because La Motta won this fight, a great victory against his great rival. In contrast to this, the ring in his next fight against Robinson, which he lost on a controversial decision, was designed by Scorsese as a 'pit of hell'. In the opening shot of this fight, Scorsese has made everything look unclear and indistinguishable. This time, the ring is very dark and smoky which increases the blurred, unfocused feel of the fight. Often during this fight, faces are out of frame. For example when the two men are boxing La Motta's face is often blurred out by smoke or hidden by his opponent's body. This is seen once again when he is in his corner for the break in between the rounds; the shot has his face completely covered by one of the ropes of the ring. This was how La Motta himself remembered it; these events will remain unclear in his mind since he could not work out why he had lost. This sequence depicts a particularly upsetting part of La Motta's memories, and perfectly illustrates how he was feeling at the moment of the fight.
Just as important as the look of the film was the sound. As with the cinematography, two different styles were adopted to differentiate between La Motta's life in and out of the ring. The fight scenes were recorded in Dolby Stereo with heightened, often animalistic sound effects and a striking use of silence. This contrast with the dialogue in the film, which was recorded normally, was used to emphasise La Motta's heightened sense of awareness in the ring. The most memorable use of sound in the film, in particular the use of silence, is in La Motta's fourth fight against his great rival Sugar Ray Robinson. The rounds are punctuated by eery silence, giving an impression of slow motion and evoking the idea of what would be running through the boxers' heads. Just as memorable was the decision to use an animal's breathing for Robinson's final attack on La Motta. Everything is standing still, there is a striking silence throughout and all that can be heard is the bestial breathing building the suspense, as if Robinson was a lion about to strike on its prey. The next sequence is an extremely fast montage of cuts showing La Motta being badly beaten by Robinson. This scene moves between Robinson and La Motta at a rapid pace to suit the lightning fast boxing of which La Motta is on the receiving hand. This was carefully planned out and storyboarded beforehand by Scorsese and then skilfully brought to life by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who won an Oscar for her work.
* When Paul Schrader was working on the script, he put in numerous shocking moments such as Jake LaMotta masturbating and dipping his penis into a bucket of ice. Schrader later admitted that the film held less personal significance to him than it did for Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese and he added the shocking material just to see what he could get past the studio. Ultimately, the masturbation was cut and, instead of putting his penis into the ice, La Motta pours the ice down his underwear.
* Mardik Martin wrote the most traditional, linear script for the film (more of a traditional Jake La Motta biography), but backed off on the project due to exhaustion after months of research. Paul Schrader made several changes to the script, including making, Joey La Motta, Jake's brother, the second most prominent character (by combining his actions with that of Jake's friend, 'Peter Savage' ) and starting the story in the middle of La Motta's career rather than at the beginning. Although they kept Schrader's overall structure, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro spent 5 weeks rewriting his version of the script until they had exactly the film they wanted (Scorsese and De Niro are uncredited as screenwriters for the film).
* Robert De Niro read the autobiography of Jake LaMotta while filming The Godfather: Part II (1974) in 1974 and immediately saw the potential for a film to make with his collaborator, Martin Scorsese. It took over four years for De Niro to convince everyone, including Scorsese, to get on board for this film.
* Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are really punching each other in the famous "hit me" scene.
* To achieve the feeling of brotherhood between the two lead actors, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci actually lived and trained with each other for some time before filming began. Ever since then, the two have been very close friends.
* Sound effects for punches landing were made by squashing melons and tomatoes. Sound effects for camera flashes going off were sounds of gunshots. The original tapes were deliberately destroyed by the sound technicians, to prevent then being used again.
* The scene by the chain link fence where Jake meets his girlfriend was ad-libbed.
* Robert De Niro accidentally broke Joe Pesci's rib in a sparring scene. This shot appears in the film: De Niro hits Pesci in the side, Pesci groans, and there is a quick cut to another angle. See also Casino (1995).
* Jake (Robert De Niro) asks Joey (Joe Pesci) "Did you fuck my wife?". Director Martin Scorsese didn't think that Pesci's reaction was strong enough, so he asked De Niro to say "Did you fuck your mother?". Scorsese also did not tell Pesci that the script called for him to be attacked.
* To visually achieve Jake's growing desperation and diminishing stature, Martin Scorsese shot the later boxing scenes in a larger ring.
* Robert De Niro gained a record 60 pounds to play the older 'Jake La Motta' , and Joe Pesci lost weight for the same scene (De Niro's movie weight-gain record was subsequently broken by 'Vincent D'Onofrio (I)' , who gained 70 pounds for his role as Pvt. Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket (1987)).
* Director Cameo: [Martin Scorsese] asking Jake to go on stage.
* In preparation for his role, Robert De Niro went through extensive physical training, then entered in three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and won two of them.
* To show up better on black-and-white film, Hershey's chocolate was used for blood.
* The original script was vetoed by producer Stephen Bach after he told Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro that Jake LaMotta was "a cockroach". De Niro and Scorsese took a few weeks in Italy to do an uncredited rewrite of the script, during which time the two found some sympathetic aspects of La Motta, which eventually satisfied the producers.
* According to Martin Scorsese, the script took only two weeks to write on the island of St Martin in the Caribbean.
* Was voted the third greatest sports movie of all time after Rocky (1976) and Bull Durham (1988) by ESPN.
* Although only a few minutes of boxing appear in the movie, they were so precisely choreographed that they took six weeks to film.
* Joe Pesci, at the time a frustrated, struggling actor, had to be persuaded to make the film rather than return to the musical act he shared with fellow actor Frank Vincent.
* Martin Scorsese's father Charles Scorsese is one of the mob wiseguys crowding the LaMotta brothers at a Copa nightclub table.
* While preparing to play Jake LaMotta, Robert De Niro actually met with La Motta and became very well acquainted with him. They spent the entire shoot together so De Niro could portray his character accurately. La Motta said that De Niro has the ability to be a contender, and that he would have been happy to be his manager and trainer.
* Actor John Turturro makes his film debut as the man at table at Webster Hall. Both Turturro and Robert De Niro have played characters named Billy Sunday. De Niro as Master Chief Leslie W. 'Billy' Sunday in Men of Honor (2000), and Turturro as Coach Billy Sunday in He Got Game (1998).
* Beverly D'Angelo auditioned for the role of Jake's wife, Vicki LaMotta. She also auditioned for the role of Patsy Cline in Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) at around the same time. Martin Scorsese chose Cathy Moriarty (whom the producers saw before D'Angelo), freeing D'Angelo to appear in "Coal Miner's Daughter".
* The role of Jake's wife was the last to be cast.
* Sharon Stone also auditioned for the role of Vicki LaMotta.
* Martin Scorsese claims that nothing should be read into his using the On the Waterfront (1954) quote. Jake LaMotta, in his declining years, used to appear on stage reciting dialogue from television plays and even reading William Shakespeare. According to Scorsese, he'd planned to use something from "Richard III" (because in the corresponding real-life event LaMotta used it), but director Michael Powell suggested that "Richard III" wouldn't work in the context of the film because the film in general and LaMotta in particular are inherently American. Scorsese picked the lines from "On the Waterfront".
* Some scenes and phrases are from On the Waterfront (1954) because Jake LaMotta admired Marlon Brando's character and used to quote the movie in real life.
* Martin Scorsese was worried about the On the Waterfront (1954) recitation because he knew he'd be inviting critical comparison between the scene in this film and the original film's scene. Robert De Niro read it in various ways. Scorsese chose the take in which the recitation is extremely flat specifically to mute the comparison, and to suggest that it is simply a recitation and not indicative of how Jake LaMotta felt about his brother.
* No original music was composed for the film. All of the music was taken from the works of an Italian composer named Pietro Mascagni. Martin Scorsese selected it because it had a quality of sadness to it that he felt fit the mood of the film.
* The biblical quote at the end of the film ("All that I know is that I was blind, and now I can see") was a reference to Martin Scorsese's film professor, to whom the film was dedicated. The man died just before the film was released. Scorsese credits his teacher with helping him "to see".
* The home movie sequences were in color to make them stand out from the rest of the film. Another reason was the feeling of reality, because at the particular time represented by the home movies, 8mm color home movie cameras were very popular.
* The rooftop wedding scene was directed by Martin Scorsese's father after he fell ill while filming.
* In 1978, when Martin Scorsese was at an all-time low due to a near overdose resulting from an addiction to cocaine, Robert De Niro visited him at the hospital and told him that he had to clean himself up and make this movie about a boxer. At first, Scorsese refused (he didn't like sports movies anyway), but due to De Niro's persistence, he eventually gave in. Many claim (including Scorsese) that De Niro saved Scorsese's life by getting him back into work.
* Was voted the 5th Greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
* When the real Jake LaMotta saw the movie, he said it made him realize for the first time what a terrible person he had been. He asked the real Vicki "Was I really like that?". Vicki replied "You were worse."
* Martin Scorsese had trouble figuring out how he would cut together the scene when La Motta last fights Robinson (in particular when he is up against the ropes getting beaten). He used the original shot-list from the shower sequence in Psycho (1960) to help him figure it out. Scorsese later commented that it helped most in that the scene was the most horrific to him.
* According to Martin Scorsese in the "Raging Bull" DVD, this was going to be one of eight boxing movies to come out in 1980.
* Martin Scorsese shunned the idea of filming the boxing scenes with multiple cameras. Instead, he planned months of carefully choreographed movements with one camera. He wanted the single camera to be like "a third fighter".
* Robert De Niro's performance as Jake LaMotta is ranked #10 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
* Neither Director of Photography Michael Chapman nor Martin Scorsese could get the right look for the amateur LaMotta home movies that comprise the only color sequences in "Raging Bull". Both men gave in to their natural instincts for camera placement and framing, which was the antithesis of what they wanted to achieve. They solved the problem by asking Teamsters working on the set to handle the camera in order to give the 16mm film the appropriate feel of amateur home movies.
* Jake LaMotta's autobiography, co-written with friend 'Peter Savage' , omitted mention of his brother, as did Mardik Martin's original screenplay. Unhappy with the result, the producers hired Paul Schrader to restructure it, and in the course of doing research on La Motta, the writer came across an article on the relationship between Jake and his brother Joey LaMotta. Schrader incorporated the relationship into the revised screenplay, co-opting the Savage character and creating a composite of the two men in the person of Joey La Motta. That relationship became the central plot theme in the revised screenplay and one of the primary reasons for the film's success.
* Frank Vincent also plays a character named Batts in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990).
* According to Martin Scorsese on the DVD, when first screening some test 8mm footage of Robert De Niro sparring in a ring, he felt that something was off about the image. Michael Powell, who at that time had become something of a mentor and good friend to Scorsese, suggested that it was the color of the gloves that was throwing them off. Realizing this was true, Scorsese then decided the movie had to be filmed in black and white.
* The word "fuck" is used 114 times in this film.
* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #4 Greatest Movie of All Time.
* Was voted the 4th best film of all time in AFI's 10th anniversary of the 100 Years... 100 Movies series.
* 'Nicholas Colasonto' 's character, Tommy Como, is based on the real-life mobster Frankie Carbo, who basically ran all boxing in New York City during the 1940s and '50s. He eventually was sent to prison for conspiracy and extortion after being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
SPOILER: The television commentary during LaMotta's last fight with Robinson, when he loses the title, is the actual TV broadcast of the bout.