Directed by Peter Yates
Lt. Frank Bullitt (the legendary Steve McQueen) of the San Francisco Police Department along with his team is assigned to protect a criminal known as Johnny Ross who will be testifying against the Outfit before a Senate subcommittee. When the witness is shot while in protective custody and then killed, Bullitt must solve the case. That’s a little simplistic but if for some reason you haven’t watched this masterpiece I don’t want to give too much away.
The music itself is just great. It’s got a bit of a caper vibe to it along with a cool 60s swing. This type of score just doesn’t make into cinema anymore and it’s a real shame. Some movies could benefit from it. The music is as much of a character as anyone in the film.
The film has plenty of familiar faces aside from Steve McQueen. Robert Vaughn for example plays Senator Chalmers (but is confusingly referred to repeatedly as Mr. Chalmers. He should be called Sen. Chalmers.) He is best known as Napoleon Solo from the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also starred with McQueen in The Magnificent Seven.
Jacqueline Bisset who plays Bullitt’s girlfriend Cathy is a well-known name, but she barely has any screen time in this movie. I know this was pretty early in her career but it’s such a disappointment. She’s always been a talented actress but was completely underutilized here. It doesn’t detract from the movie. I just find it a shame.
Among the well-known actors are many well-known character actors. Vic Tayback for example is featured in the opening scene. He is best known as Mel Sharples from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and its television spinoff Alice. Science fiction fans may also remember him as Jojo Krako in the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action.”
Simon Oakland who played Captain Sam Bennett starred in numerous film and television roles throughout his career. Guaranteed you saw him in something. The guy was everywhere. He seems to be best remember though for his role as Editor Tony Vincenzo in the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Norman Fell plays Sgt. Baker. He is quite the hard ass in this. He was very good and I’m surprised that about 10 years or so later he was doing light comedy in Three’s Company. How did that happen? He’s best known for comedy and his best-known role in that is as landlord Stanley Roper in the aforementioned Three’s Company and its spinoff The Ropers. He’s so good here.
How can one talk about this movie and not mention the chase scene? Aside from the cinematic cool of Steve McQueen what sets this movie part is that very chase scene. It is an iconic piece of cinema and perhaps one of the most mimicked chase scenes in film history. It is one of the most genuinely exciting car chases ever filmed. It’s nothing but edge of your seat excitement. Nothing else like it had hit movie screens before and few since really compare.
And then there are the cars. Every good chase scene needs good looking cars in it and the 60s had some of the best-looking vehicles ever to hit the road. And in this movie they just aren’t the mundane vehicles of the day. These are the best looking of the time. This movie is a feast for car lovers alone if they want to look at vehicles of genuine style.
The story itself isn’t a bad story but it’s not a particularly unique crime story after so many years. Many films since then have done something similar. Perfection invites imitation. That’s not a complaint. It’s just a reality of the film business. But if you want to see one of the best then this is it.
When I was younger for whatever reason I avoided films like this. It was an older action type film and for some reason I felt it and others like it could offer me nothing in the way of entertainment. I don’t know why but once I decide to open my horizons, I discovered a lot more movies to love. This movie is essential viewing. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a great example of the movies of its time and most importantly of the work of Steve McQueen.