Bullitt (1968)

Directed by Peter Yates
Cinematography William A. Fraker

The film was made by McQueen’s Solar Productions company, with his then-partner Robert E. Relyea as executive producer. Released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, the film was a critical and box office smash, later winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller) and receiving a nomination for Best Sound. Writers Trustman and Kleiner won a 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Bullitt is also notable for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, regarded as one of the most influential in movie history.

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The one that started it all…

10 February 2004 | by BroadswordCallinDannyBoy (Boston, MA) – See all my reviews

…from from rogue cops who make their own rules, to… rogue cops who seriously know how to put the pedal to the medal. Only Bogie and John Wayne were cinematic tough guys before Frank Bullitt came along, and it was Bullitt that inspired Dirty Harry and every rogue cop movie as a result. If you were looking for the first modern cop thriller, well here it is. Accept no substitutes. In today’s over-blown and effects laden (for better of for worse) era, people often forget that all those films began with movies like this one.

The story has Lieutenant Frank Bullitt receiving an assignment to protect a star witness in a high profile case that could bring down a powerful crime organization. Bullitt and his men take turns guarding the witness, but before long there is a hit and the witness is mortally wounded, and Bullitt takes the case into his own hands. The resulting mystery is both Grade-A Hollywood entertainment (rare these days) and a believable character portrait of a man engulfed by his work in a cruel world.

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Of course one cannot talk about his movie without mentioning the legendary car chase, which is one of the best out there, but is not the main part of the movie as many make it out to be. If you see this movie just for some pedal to the medal action you will be let down. The focus of the movie is on Bullitt and the car chase, while very exciting and fun to watch, is one of the many scenes that show Bullitt’s near obsession to work. Unlike today’s crap action movies there is no 37 car pile up, no cars flipping over simply because the bad guys are driving them.

Also the finale of the film, a foot chase at an airport, has our hero firing two shots from his pistol and that is the only time he uses it in the movie. This film demonstrates that action is best when the result of a character’s emotions and not a director’s ambition to blow stuff up. Bullitt wants to get the bottom of the case, he wants to find out who’s been following him around town and that is the result of the action scenes. In the end the film is a true classic and Frank Bullitt is a character to remember. 10/10

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Modern directors should take note of the style.

8/10
Author: jd372 from United States
21 February 2005

What a change of pace this movie is as compared with its genre today. I’m no old fogey but would that modern directors become smart enough take several pages from its book.

The Bullit character is a precursor of Dirty Harry but a bit more cerebral. Stylistically, the director sets the stage beautifully for McQueen’s Bullit. The movie has a European feel (director Peter Yates is a Brit) and achieves its dark mood through quiet understatement. The musical score for instance. Today, music is overly used, overly loud and manipulative. (i.e. in case you are not moved by this scene, here are a division of amplified violins to remind you to weep). In ‘Bullit’ the music is sparingly used and doesn’t intrude at all. It complements the directorial style without setting the agenda.

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The feeling of reserved naturalism is achieved through editing and dialogue. There really aren’t very many lines in the movie and when characters do speak they are very succinct. Notice the last 15-20 minutes of the movie, most of which takes place at the airport. Hardly a line in it. There is none of the chattiness so prevalent today (especially post “Pulp Fiction”) which is so tedious (unless the script is tip-top, which is rare).

Editing is, perhaps, its greatest strong point. The many long edits deserve equal credit with the dialogue in setting the low-key mood. The cinema verite dialogue of the airport scenes (and, say, the scene where McQueen and Don Gordon search the trunk) combined with the long cuts add greatly to understated feel while adding realism.

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And the performances are top notch. The spare script helps McQueen shine since the taciturn moodiness fits his persona to a tee. There are very fine performances from all of the supporting cast, from Don Gordon to Bisset to Fell to Duvall to Oakland. This is a great movie for watching faces. Note the expressions of the hit men during the chase scene (just another example of this movie letting the little touches speak volumes).

The chase scene certainly deserves its billing as one of the best in movie history. Recently, ‘The Transporter’ was lauded for its opening chase sequence. The one in ‘Bullit’ is a marvel compared. In ‘The Transporter’ sequence I’m not sure there is a cut that lasts more than three seconds. In ‘Bullit’ it is again the editing which sets it apart here. The long edits give you the feel of acceleration and deceleration, of tire smoke and gears, of wind and the roller coaster San Francisco streets. You are given the time to place yourself in the frame. In short, ‘Bullit’ uses real craftsmanship. Films like ‘The Transporter’ use hundreds of quick edits to mimic the danger and immediacy of ‘Bullit’ but it comes across as hot air, confusion instead of clarity. The two scenes are perfect set pieces of easy (and hollow) Mtv-style flash versus real directorial substance.

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The real king……

10/10
Author: dixie-18 from Danville, Virginia
29 October 2003

McQueen was really the King of Cool. I have read many comments here about this film, and some say it is slow, some say it is an action thriller. Thrilling it is! Steve did not have to jabber in every scene to dominate this film. The car chase is unequaled to this day. How can anything on the road in later years compare to the “muscle cars” of the late 60s? But Steve was the star, make no mistake, and even though the dialogue was minimal, it was enough. Steve McQueen had that power on the screen. He remains one of Hollywood’s best, even though he passed away over twenty years ago. We will not see the likes of him for many more years. Women loved him, men loved him too. If you have not seen many of his films, watch any you can. Watch him in Tom Horn (1980), and Papillon (1973). Try The Getaway (1972), Junior Bonner (1972)and the humorous The Reivers (1969). Of course, The Sand Pebbles (1966) , The Great Escape (1963), and the ever classic The Magnificent Seven(1960) are among his most popular films. You never go wrong with any of these.

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Maximum Cool

Author: gvb0907 from Falls Church, Virginia
1 November 2001

Steve McQueen’s career peaked in 1968 with “Bullitt” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” both ideal vehicles for his cool persona. Although superior to its recent remake, “Crown” has not aged gracefully, while “Bullitt” has held up fairly well.

Cool though he may be, Frank Bullitt is a totally committed detective, perhaps even more so than Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan. Bullitt is a complete professional who never takes his eye off the objective, no matter how much interference he encounters from his superiors or from Robert Vaughan’s scheming politician, Walter Chalmers. And Bullitt, unlike Doyle or Callahan, operates without the histrionics. No one-liners, no yelling and screaming tantrums from this officer. You may not like him very much, but you have to respect his dedication to duty and you’ll quickly share his absolute contempt for Chalmers.

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“Bullitt” is best remembered for its spectacular car chase in which McQueen reportedly did most of his own driving. But this is not primarily an action film. Aside from the chase and the final shootout at SFO, there’s not a lot of violence. Most of the attention is on Bullitt’s maneuvering to unravel the mystery and to keep Chalmers off his back.

Recommended if you like McQueen or policiers in general. The pace may be a little slow for people under 30 who are used to a more slam-bang, less cerebral approach to this sort of thing, but “Bullitt” is still worth your time. Just don’t expect “Lethal Weapon.”

A Bullitt For Steve

9/10
Author: sol1218 from brooklyn NY
16 March 2004

*****SPOILERS****** Even though the movie “Bullitt” is known for it’s legendary car chase scene, this in 1968 when everything was done for real not in a studio with computer enhanced imagery, the movie is also a very fine crime/drama straight out of todays headlines and has a very good and brainy plot too.

Senator Walter Chalmers is holding a special Senate Commission on Organized Crime in America in San Francisco and has a very important witness Johnny Ross, Pat Renella, coming from Chicago to testify. Chalmers Wants to make sure that Ross is protected from the mob who beside testifying against it has also stolen $2,000,000.00 dollars from them and they want him dead and will go to any lengths to get him.

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Ross is assigned a unit from the SFPD headed by Let. Frank Bullitt, Steve McQueen, for around the clock protection at an undisclosed hotel. Just before Ross entered the hotel he made a number of Phone calls one was to a hotel in San Mateo Calif. Later back in his hotel room with Sgt. Stanton, Carl Reindel guarding him Ross slides open the lock on the door and just then two men enter the hotel room and blast both Ross and Sgt. Stanton away; at the hospital Sgt. Stanton survives but Ross dies on the operating table.

Let. Bullitt wisely decides to keep Ross’ death secret from Senator Chalmers as well as the media by having Ross’ body put on ice in the hospital morgue, unidentified, under a John Doe. With Ross’ death kept under cover Let. Bullitt checks out Ross’ phone calls, before he entered the hotel room, and finds that the call to the San Mateo hotel was to a woman who registered under the named of Dorothy Simmons. With the Senate Commission hearing the next day Bullitt begins to realize that this dead hood Johnny Ross may not the person that he seems to be.

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As Let. Bullitt gets closer to the truth about the whole Ross business his life becomes endangered by the two killers, Paul Genge and Bill Hickman, who killed Johnny Ross in his hotel room. This sets the scene for the thrilling and exciting car chase that the movie is noted for. Setting him up for an ambush on a deserted San Francisco street Bullitt turns the tables on the killers by backtracking and then surprises and chases them into a hot corner. We have the two killers and Let. Bullitt flooring the gas peddle and tearing up the roads and highway in and around San Francisco and the Bay Area. The exciting car chase comes to an end when, after trying to shoot at Bullitt’s car with a shotgun, the killers auto loses control and smashes into a gas station with both of the killers ending dead and burned to a crisp .

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Back at the police station Bullitt starts to check out the mysterious Mrs. Simmons, the woman who Ross called before he was killed, at her hotel room in San Mateo and finds her murdered. Looking at Mrs. Simmons’ luggage Let. Bullitt and the police find out that she was really a Mrs. Renick and was scheduled to leave San Francisco ,with her husband Edward, on a plane trip to Italy? whats going on here?

Checking Mrs.Renick aka Simmons husbands passport photo Bullitt realizes that Johnny Ross who was killed at the hotel room was really her husband Edward Renick a car dealer from Chicago with no mob connections. Renick must have been paid off by the real Johnny Ross, Felice Orlandi, to impersonate him with Ross taking Renick’s passport and identity and checking out of the country and away from the law and the mob who were both looking for him! Ross must have also double-crossed both Renick and his wife by having them murdered.

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With the real Johnny Ross now heading for the San Francisco International Airport to make his getaway Let. Frank Bullitt is the only one who has a chance to stop him and as it gets closer for Ross’ flight to take off for Italy the chances of him getting caught are getting slimmer by the minute.

Terrific police/action/drama with an ending at the airport, thats as good as the great car chase seen earlier in the film, that left everyone gasping. Also good in the film is Jackie Bisset as Let. Frank Bullitt’s girlfriend Cathy who had trouble accepting Frank’s job as a policeman especially by seeing up front and personal, the murdered Mrs. Simmons/Renick, what that job did to him as well as what it was doing to her her by living with him.

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