A San Francisco detective pursues the hitmen who murdered a witness under his protection
Starring Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset and the real stars; a green 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback and 1968 Dodge Charger R/T.
Steve McQueen plays Inspector Frank Bullitt, a dedicated, overworked police detective tasked by a crusading politician with guarding an important witness at an upcoming mob trial. Things quickly go south and a hit team hits the protection detail leaving Bullitt’s friend and the witness clinging to life. Naturally Bullitt’s job is at stake after this screw-up, Chalmers, the politician threatens to ruin him if the witness dies.
Tough on crime politician with a few secrets of his own
Bullitt hides the witnesses death hoping to lure the killers to the hospital and get them. This leads to one of the greatest scenes in modern cinema.
Catching bad guys while catching some air
Bullitt can be best described as an epic car chase with a movie built around it. Absolutely everything in the movie builds up to that one scene. It starts in the second half of the movie with a slow, menacing prowl through the streets and explodes into roughly seven minutes of tire screaming, suspension smashing, crazy cornering mayhem through the hills of San Francisco. As Steve McQueen pursues the killers, demolishing cars, motorcycles, sidewalks and one gas station in the process. Try as they might, the bad guys in the Charger are unable to shake the mighty Mustang and it all ends in several magnificent smash ups.
Killer on the run
What makes the chase scene so interesting, especially in the age of special effects, stunt men and personal injury attorneys; is that some of the chase scene was filmed on live city streets with lead actor Steve McQueen driving at some points. How much driving he actually did, is a matter of some debate, but a whole lot more than a modern studio would risk with a major star. The number of misdemeanors if not outright felonies committed during the chase scene are astonishing and I doubt a modern city would allow some of these stunts on live streets today.
Steve McQueen, yes that is him driving in the chase scene
Another interesting fact is that large amounts of the chase scene are shown without a background score. The roaring engines and screeching tires being soundtrack enough, adding music would diminish the raw power of the camera and stunt work here.
Most of today’s movies have been unable to match the raw, brutal realism of that chase scene and it is still one of the greatest ever shot. Unfortunately, it is also the primary reason to see the movie. While the other scenes are well shot, they are much more sedate by comparison. The director makes extensive use of onsite shooting and lightweight cameras, giving the film an organic, lived in feel. This doesn’t make up for a large portion of the movie being formulaic mugshot, book ’em Danno police procedure, mixed in with interdepartmental politics and a lot of throwaway dialog and filler. Everything in this movie builds up to the climactic chase and it loses steam quickly whenever the cars are off the screen.
Verdict: 3 gavels out of 5
The Mustang and the Charger are the real stars here. The whole movie is defined by that one epic sequence.