When a defecting Chicago Mobster arrives in San Fransisco ahead of a Senate Sub Committee hearing on Organised Crime, the SFPD are tasked with providing around the clock protection in his cheap boarding house. When hitmen burst in, shooting and seriously wounding a police officer and the mobster turned witness, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) and Sergeant Dalgetti (Don Gordon) pick up the trail to hunt down the murders while uncovering a deeper plot. Their progress is hindered by the ambitious politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) who wants the witness back on the stand and blames Bullitt for the attack.
Bullitt is one of those classic, cool 60s movies which I’ve always wanted to see but never got around to doing so until now. I was aware of the famous car chase and that Steve McQueen was meant to have given one of his trademark edgy, cooler than ice performances but I knew little else. As well as the above, the film has a lot to offer the viewer from a fantastic score to impressive cinematography but I was never engaged in the storyline.
The film won an Oscar for Editing and it was well deserved. The movie makes use of a plethora on interesting camera angles to keep the eyes entertained. It’s impressive just how many new and eye catching angles and camera positions were used. These shots are then edited together superbly. The two stand out scenes are both chase scenes. The most famous of these is the car chase which was groundbreaking at the time and still holds up as one of the greatest, if not the greatest I’ve seen. It lasts over ten minutes but flashes by as if it’s just mere seconds. The brilliant score drops out at the first screech of tires and doesn’t return until the chase is over. Instead the film relies only on the sounds of the engines, gearbox and tires and this works wonderfully. The stunt driving is magnificent and the camerawork gets right to the heart of the action, using both in car shots, close-ups from around the vehicles and panning shots as they whiz past. The scene also features no dialogue and instead allows the cars to do the talking. It’s a magnificent scene and yet it’s so simple. Just cars, men and the streets of San Fransisco. Modern film makers could learn a thing or two by studying the sequence instead of relying on carnage and destruction as is popular today.
Following the highs of the chase the film falls into a bit of a lull. This is replaced towards the end though with another chase, this time on foot and through an airport. The chase heads from inside a plane, across the runways and surrounding areas before heading back inside the terminal for its climax. It’s another great scene, wonderfully designed and beautifully edited with the great score back in place. The score added so much to the movie that its use should not be brushed aside. Composed by Lalo Schifrin it’s a brass and percussion lead jazz score and fits perfectly with the time period and visuals. It adds tension and excitement when needed and is a superb accompaniment to the cinematography. Steve McQueen gives a straight and quiet performance but has the screen presence to pull it off. He doesn’t say a lot but still carries the film and is the focal point throughout. Robert Vaughn comes across as slimy and has a habit of popping up wherever the plot takes the film. He has a somewhat alien quality to him which is unsettling. Jacqueline Bisset is very attractive and floats around the place looking lovely but her character added little to the proceedings. Robert Duvall has a cameo as a cab driver and plays his small role in a naturalistic way.
My main problem with Bullitt is that to me it felt like style over substance. The film looks and sounds brilliant but the actual plot is just a run of the mill cops and robbers story with little in the way of originality. The film making methods are full of originality and that is what makes the movie the classic that it is but I didn’t invest in the story or the characters. Despite this the film deserves its place in film history for the fantastic visuals, top notch soundtrack and incredible chase sequences.
- Frank Bullitt's car is a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback. The hitmen drive a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. The Charger is just barely faster than the Mustang, with a 13.6-second quarter-mile to a 13.8-second. Two of each cars were used and they had their suspension modified to withstand San Fransisco's hilly streets.
- Robert Vaughn turned down the film as he felt there was no plot. He was eventually persuaded after the studio offered him more money.
- This was one of the first films to use squibs for sunshot wounds.