By on January 23, 2018

It’s odd to consider, but in a world where Steve McQueen had never lived I’d be about three dozen serious injuries better off than I am today. Scratch that. I don’t need him to have never lived. I just need him to have not supported the production of “On Any Sunday.”

That film romanticizes the Elsinore GP, which in turn led me to enter the Elsinore GP, which led me to break my leg training for the Elsinore GP, which led me to record a big fat DNS for the Elsinore GP. Worse than that, however, the opening sequence of “On Any Sunday” is commonly understood to be the catalyst for the sport of bicycle motocross, which has treated me worse than Ike Turner treated Tina.

Not that I bear any grudge against the man, mind you. I do, however, have complete and abiding contempt for the consumer-driven culture of McQueen worship that has arisen in the past 20 years or so. If you wear Hunsiker McQueen shoes or a McQueen T-shirt, or if you repeat the “Racing is life” line from LeMans like it was someone’s actual philosophy and not just a line written for an actor on a set, I’m going to think less of you. It’s not because McQueen was a vile person at times, although it is worth noting that his behavior often went past the rambunctious into the just plain despicable. It is because while boys and teenagers need heroes to admire and emulate, grown men shouldn’t wear another man’s face or name on their bodies if they can help it. Period, point blank.

Last week, Ford introduced a new “Bullitt Mustang” with the help of McQueen’s lovely granddaughter, Molly Flattery dba Molly McQueen. I have to say that I like everything about the car but the new-for-2019 nose, which is uncomfortably catfish-esque, and the “Bullitt” logos. As was the case the last two times a Bullitt Mustang appeared, there’s been a revival of interest in the movie. My wife had never seen it, so we watched “Bullitt” this past Friday night. Shortly afterwards, I read a Jalopnik piece by Raphael Orlove describing the movie as “boring garbage.”

It seems like the right time to take a look at the film without Gulf-colored lenses or Millennial-ish suspicion, so let’s open the curtain on another episode of TTAC At The Movies, shall we? Warning: spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t managed to catch the film in the past 49 years.

The plot is the least important part of “Bullitt,” so here’s a quick summary: An up-and-coming San Francisco politician, played exactly on the nose by a very handsome and in-form Robert Vaughn, has arranged for a member of the Chicago Mob to provide some testimony. He sets up a hotel room and requests that local hero cop Frank Bullitt guard the mobster over the weekend.

Naturally, it all goes wrong and in fairly short order Bullitt finds himself fighting everybody from a pair of hitmen to his own departmental management in an effort to get the truth about who the mobster really was and what his plans were. At the same time, he is attempting to preserve his relationship with his artist girlfriend (played by Jacqueline Bisset at her most spectacular) as she becomes increasingly horrified by the violence and chaos of Bullitt’s work life. At the end of the film, with the witness and the hitmen dead, Bullitt returns home to ponder whether or not his girlfriend was right after all.

TVTropes has a short but effective section on “Bullitt” where it is noted the film serves as both the inspiration for a million copycat films and a complete refutation of the themes developed by those copycats. In truth, most of those films are really copying “Dirty Harry,” which is sort of like “Bullitt” without all the soul-searching, uncertainty, and protagonist mistakes. One of the TVTropes writers notes, quite accurately, that

This was actually the first Cowboy Cop movie, but seen today, it looks like a deconstruction of the genre: the cop ignores his superiors and dismisses the quite reasonable demands of a slimy politician out of distrust, but accidentally kills all the witnesses and ruins any chances of finding the real mob bosses. The film ends with him staring into a mirror, realizing just how badly he’s screwed up.

I’d like to suggest that McQueen knew exactly what he was doing with all of the above. Frank Bullitt is no Dirty Harry; he’s an irrational, imperfect, and deeply damaged human being. He’s always a step behind the bad guys, always a bit too slow to see what’s playing out right in front of him. His primary virtue is dedication to the mission, even when nobody else wants him to continue said mission. In that sense, he reminds me quite a bit of Sean Connery’s protagonist in the criminally underrated “Outland.” In an era where policemen tend to appear in the media as murderous villains or bulletproof action heroes, this notion of cop-as-regular-guy is a welcome relief.

There’s some irony in the fact that the “Bullitt” car chase set us on a path that would eventually lead to Michael Bay-style tripe and an expectation of the part of modern viewers that “action films” would contain nothing but action, because the film surrounding that chase is a detailed, painstaking, accuracy-oriented effort to show the authentic lives of police and other first responders. It’s chock-full of realistic snippets: an autopsy report, a trans-continental image fax, the prejudices that an African-American doctor might have faced 50 years ago.

Over at Jalopnik, Mr. Orlove makes some fun of a scene in the movie where Bullitt eats a cheese sandwich, as if McQueen had nothing on the shooting schedule that day and decided to make a cheese sandwich the star of the moment. In reality, the whole “cheese sandwich” series of scenes is designed to immerse the viewer in the actual life of a policeman whose partner has been shot. Today’s action heroes never eat, never rest, never have to use the bathroom. Frank Bullitt, by contrast, is hungry after staying with his partner all night — so a nurse brings him a sandwich, and he’s happy to get it.

The look of joy on Bullitt’s face when the meal appears is thought-provoking, because it suggests that human beings are a little more complex than the Hollywood caricatures. It’s possible to be absolutely miserable about your partner being shot and still be grateful for the chance at a meal. And when Bullitt confers with the doctor in charge shortly afterwards, he’s still eating the sandwich, which is consistent with what a real cop would do in that situation.

A thoughtful viewing of “Bullitt” teaches us a lot about the differences between the audiences of 1968 and today’s Netflix-and-chill crowd. The first 10 minutes or so of the film contain no explanation whatsoever; the viewer is expected to watch carefully, retain what he has seen, and be able to place it in the context of information delivered later. Several scenes contain no audible dialogue whatsoever, presenting a conversation behind glass or at a distance. It’s up to the viewer to guess at what is being said and why. There are several long shots of various Pan Am Boeing 707 aircraft; this amounts to fanservice in an era where many moviegoers had yet to experience a trip on a jet airplane or even see one close-up. (Incidentally, the 707 featured most prominently in the film is a 1965-built example evocatively named Jet Clipper Glory of the Skies by Pan Am.)

The same holds true for McQueen’s decision to shoot the movie mostly on location. The average American could not afford to visit San Francisco on a whim, so “Bullitt” was both action movie and travelogue. It should be noted that the success of early James Bond films was similarly driven at least in part by the fact that they showed exotic locales in full Technicolor.

Today’s moviegoer, living in an era of ramped-up violence, Gulf War veterans on every corner, and dirt-cheap unregulated fares to island paradises, cannot be expected to fully understand what a thrill it would have been to watch “Bullitt” in 1968. Nor can he be expected to understand the extreme reaction of Bullitt’s girlfriend to seeing a dead body. Gosh, lady, it’s just a strangulated corpse! Nowadays kids see that stuff on the internet 50 times a day! He is also unlikely to understand the idea that the film’s patient pacing is deliberate, and that it enhances the enjoyment of the crash scene rather than detracts from it. One might as well expect him to sit through the entire plot of “Emmanuelle” just to see some naked people having fuzzy sex. Nowadays we get straight to the good part. My son recently informed me that “Fails” videos are very popular on YouTube: 10 minutes of crashes, pratfalls, disasters, all compressed down to the money shot then whisked off stage to make room for the next one. There is literally no difference between much of today’s popular streaming video content and the “Ow! My Balls!” show parodied in the movie “Idiocracy.”

In short, “Bullitt” is a movie for grown-ups. It’s too demanding and too leisurely to make much sense to Millennial viewers, who are more comfortable with McQueen-as-quote-and-T-shirt than they are with McQueen as actor and filmmaker. Yet it also did its part to tumble us into the current abyss of tasteless pap and sensory-overload content. Which is why I think the best tribute to “Bullitt” isn’t a T-shirt, a pair of signature shoes, or even a $40,000, 475-horsepower Mustang. It’s the car-chase scene in Clint Eastwood’s “The Dead Pool,” where Eastwood is chased through San Francisco by an explosives-laden toy car. It’s a trenchant bit of action-as-commentary on Eastwood’s part, suggesting that the car chase and the whole unthinking-action genre leads to the infantilization of the moviegoer.

In the end, it’s nothing but a bunch of people playing make-believe. McQueen himself often railed against the “phony” nature of acting. I suspect that he would have approved. Go see “Bullitt.” It’s worth your time, and it’s more than just a car chase. How many movies nowadays can say that?

[Images: Bullitt/Warner Bros., via imcdb.org]

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85 Comments on “TTAC at the Movies: ‘Bullitt’...”


  • avatar
    spamvw

    Saw this on CBS news last night,

    https://www.cbsnews.com/video/the-return-of-a-hollywood-legend-steve-mcqueens-mustang/

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The best scene in the film was the hitman looking in his rear view right before he punches the gas, and starts the chase. The star of the film? The stock exhaust on the ‘68 Charger. Still sends shivers down my spine.

  • avatar

    The movie is one big excuse to come up with the best car chase sequence in film history ever. Story is just a vague backdrop. Actually, very much like the movie Ronin was. I don’t dig nowadays use of CGI to make car chase scenes entertaining. They feel well… virtual.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Car chases in Ronin are mind melting

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The ones in “Baby Driver” are better, IMHO.

        And the best car chase ever, hands down, is “Matrix Reloaded.” And, no, I don’t care that it was largely CGI. It’s sick. Plus, lots of early-2000s GM cars are slaughtered.

        • 0 avatar
          zamoti

          I simply do not get the appeal of Baby Driver. I went in with high expectations and was summarily disappointed. That film didn’t know what it was. The characters were tired reproductions (specifically the other gang members), Kevin Spacey’s character was puzzling in it’s inconsistency and motivation and the Baby character (damaged goods/repentant savant) was just embarrassing. I like movies with cars as characters and with a theme running through, and although it was sold as such, it did not deliver. First it’s a car chase movie, then it’s an iTunes commercial, then it’s a melodrama, there’s just no consistency. I don’t like to bag on Millenials, but apparently this movie does as it seems like a misguided caricature thereof.
          0/10 would not watch again.

          • 0 avatar
            Shortest Circuit

            My thoughts exactly, I saw two heist movies last year, one was Baby Driver, the another Logan Lucky. I found the latter much more entertaining. Maybe because the characters were more believable?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    What, no mention of Lalo Schifrin’s score? A pox on you!

    Seriously, good review, and you’re right – younger generations than mine don’t get this kind of movie, and don’t want to. I watched it with my kids a while back; the older one (who’s 21) was meh, and the younger one (who’s 17) hated it. Then again, the younger one also hated “2001” and “The Godfather.”

    In her defense, though, she did turn me back on to disco music (the “MacArthur Park Suite” is the best elliptical workout music ever), and she does splendidly detailed pencil drawings of David Bowie.

    Ultimately, “Bullitt” is gritty, realistic and very human. Even the film’s signature moment – the car chase – feels natural, and unstaged.

    And I’ll just put in another plug for the Schifrin score. Play it anytime you want to feel like an utter bada**.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The Jalopnik piece was hot garbage likely written by a 20-something who had no hope of getting the brilliance of the movie.

    For me I watch it almost every time it runs on TCM. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times. Why? It is America, or at least San Francisco, circa 1968, encapsulated in amber forever. Not just the cars and Bill Hickman driving the Charger during the chase, though that is classic of course. It’s the neighborhood where Bullitt lives, his apartment, the market on the corner, the various places he goes around town, the car wash, the crummy hotel and the one off the freeway that he and Bisset travel to later on. The way airports and airliners used to be. The acoustic-coupler “telecopier” fax machine. The way people used to dress. The dingy hospital. The music score as noted above. All of it is captured here for posterity. It is now a history piece but one that is very worthwhile for younger generations to see. Especially if they, unlike the author of the Jalopnik piece, can appreciate and learn from it.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I wouldn’t say this film was brilliant; if that were the case, then it’d be remembered for more than the chase scene.

      It is, however, a well-executed, realistic movie about a cop on a case that’s worth a watch every couple of years.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        ‘The French Connection’ was brilliant and often only remembered for the chase scene.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          True, but “French Connection” also won a Best Picture Oscar, and no matter how iconic Steve McQueen was, Gene Hackman was by far the better actor. “French Connection” is definitely the better movie.

          • 0 avatar
            Sub-600

            +1

          • 0 avatar
            TheDoctorIsOut

            Maybe so but people still watch “Bullitt.” Few have made the effort to watch much less remember “The French Connection.” More to the point: as great an actor Gene Hackman is few remember him while McQueen is still an icon.

          • 0 avatar

            If you like Gene Hackman, check out David Mamet’s Heist (though Ricky Jay has the best line in the movie).

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            The follow-up “seven ups” with Roy Scheider is a decent watch as well, more gritty-NYC goodness.

          • 0 avatar
            phlipski

            Hackman is criminally under-rated as an actor. Heist was a great flick. Early Sam Rockwell casting to boot! I still think Hackman should have won an Oscar for his role in The Royal Tenenbaums.

            That said – I’ve never thought the car chase scenes in The French Connection have lived up to the hype. I suspect they only live on because of the fact that they were shot largely without permits.

            Saw Baby Driver recently – can’t remember a single car chase that stands out (unlike Ronin). I remember that movie more for it’s homage to classic studio musicals from the 60’s and it’s let-down of an ending. Still a fun movie though.

            At the risk of pissing off Jack – I loved the chase scenes in Bad Boy’s 2. I know it’s CGI, but the boats coming off the trailers, the downhill scene with the hummers in cuba – loved it all!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The dialogue in “Heist” was quite painful despite a decent cast.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Gene Hackman was criminally underrated? A guy named Oscar disagrees…twice.

            Best role by FAR was “Unforgiven,” though “The Conversation” isn’t far behind.

            Far as Mamet’s concerned, everyone knows “Glengarry Glen Ross” (and “Heist” was good, if not great), but check out “House of Games” if you get a chance. Awesome movie.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Tuesday 2/6, 3PM PST, in HD

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Some movies really capture the ‘feel’ of a city, and I’ve always thought that, even to this day, Bullitt does this for San Francisco and the real reason to recommend the movie. It’s pure 1968 nostalgia, and seeing two of the best designed cars to ever come from Detroit in action is icing on the cake.

      But if not for Steve McQueen (and his involvement in the production), it would have been forgotten long ago.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Whenever I see this movie I think of how good those Torq Thrust wheels would look on that Charger, which I prefer over the Mustang.

    “…grown men shouldn’t wear another man’s face or name on their bodies if they can help it. Period, point blank.” Amen, brother. I would extend this to sport team’s jerseys too, but that’s just me.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I completely agree, but if I got the shirt for free or better yet got paid to wear it, then game on!

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      I once made fun of an acquaintance who was wearing a football jersey with another man’s name on it. When I was a kid, the cheerleaders (if dating a football player) would wear their boyfriend’s jersey. That’s all I can think of whenever I see a grown-ass man wearing a jersey. I said something to that effect to the acquaintance which was NOT appreciated. Whatever dude, instead of getting butthurt about it, perhaps turn off the TV and stop being a fat load–try going outside and actually competing in a sport instead of just yelling at the TV when your team loses.
      It was a Steelers fan FWIW.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the whole movie, now I want to. Well done.

    Haven’t seen Outland since it was in the theaters, but isn’t it just High Noon in space? I liked Connery in it, but I didn’t think it was all that.

  • avatar
    carguy67

    “Which is why I think the best tribute to “Bullitt” isn’t a T-shirt, a pair of signature shoes, or even a $40,000, 475-horsepower Mustang”

    FWIW, I bought my ’08 Bullitt not because of the movie or McQueen, but because of the sublime color (Dark Highland Green), lack of bling, shorter LSD rear end, turned aluminum dash, grey Torque Flight copy wheels–the rims on the new one are too garish–and the fact it came manual only meant something as well. I could do without the ‘Bullitt’ rockers and fake gas cap, but kinda like the reticles on the gauges.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The ’08 Bullitt is going to be worth a lot of money for a long time.

      Ford really got that one right.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        The 08 Bullitt was a good looking car but it just didn’t seem as special as the preceding 01 Bullitt.

        While it was a 2v 4.6 Ford developed a different intake and along with the suspension tuning and nabbing the brakes from the Cobra along with the styling changes and of course Bullitt wheels.

        The 08 cars IIRC received a cold air intake, adaptive engine processor, suspension tuning and a brake pad change along with the accepted Bullitt accoutrements. Good look car but it seemed like Ford didn’t want to put that much effort into it. Perhaps I guess it might have overshadowed the GT500 in some regard (had Ford included the better brakes and at least used the GT500’s 255/45R18 front tires along with the unique suspension tuning).

        The newest Bullitt even less so since Ford raided the parts bin grabbing the GT350’s CAI and manifold and using what appears to be the suspension and brakes along with Torsen from the Performance Pack. Now it seems like the Bullitt Mustang is more or less an appearance package that requires the base car to be a GT Performance Pack car.

        To boot Ford is claiming 475 horsepower which I suspect is really about where the buck standard GT is sitting (If the Bullitt post near M6 GT times then the added power will be on paper only and if it straddles or nears GT350 times then perhaps it is just as under rated as the GT).

        Cool car none the less but I think Ford should have put a little more effort into the new car and its immediate predecessor.

        On a side note Carguy hold onto the Bullitt as it seems a popular fate for those cars is a GT500 nose and hood conversion with varying degrees of success so unmolested examples in the future might be hard to find.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Good review, and the screenshots from the movie remind me how much share the Big 3 have lost since 1968. Other than a few Beetles, 90+% of all the cars parked along the streets of SF appear to be American iron, even though California was by far the largest market for foreign cars in that era.

    The review also reminds me of a supposedly true story. In 1996-7, Ford was planning its launch of the new Fiesta based Puma coupe in Europe, and the ad agency and Ford management were discussing advertising ideas. Someone came up with the idea of using CGI and digital film editing to put the long dead McQueen into the Puma. Everybody around the table got all excited about the idea as it progressed into using Bullitt scenes to showcase the new car around 1968 SF. Only one young member of the team, and the only person representing the Puma’s targeted demographic, appeared to not be very enthusiastic about the idea as he politely raised his hand and asked “who is Steve McQueen?”. They went ahead with the idea anyway, and you can see it if you search for “McQueen and Puma ad”, which will bring you to the ad on YouTube – and there is a very cool ending to the ad if you know McQueen films.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      There was a white Austin-Healey that was parked on the street in a couple of scenes (and, IIRC, a green one in the chase scene). Supposedly, the Healey belonged to one of the movie crew members, the director liked it and had the car placed in the scenes.

  • avatar

    “grown men shouldn’t wear another man’s face or name on their bodies if they can help it”

    “To most kids today, Jimi Hendrix is just a face on a shirt.” – George Gruhn

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I will add that grown men shouldn’t wear logos or brand names on their bodies, either. Why should I be a walking billboard for someone’s brand without getting paid for it? And they aren’t going to like my going rate for being their billboard.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Good review, sums it up well. It was made in a different time & place.

    Would love to have the new Bullitt if I had that kind of spare change in the bank. But I’m not a fan of the black wheels. I like the pattern, just not the color. Would have preferred the silver like the original.

    Have to agree with Jack about Jacqueline Bisset. As nice as the Mustang & Charger were to look at, she was the most beautiful thing in the movie.

    • 0 avatar
      Heino

      Thank you, as I have mentioned before Porsche should build on the retro craze and offer a 356 Bisset edition. I did work at a company where all five of us would all introduce ourselves as Ross, Johnny Ross.

  • avatar
    mmdpg

    I was 10 when the movie came out so I didn’t see it in the theater. Found out about it 40 years later by watching the chase scene on the interwebs. Bought my ’08 Bullitt because it’s a tribute to the movie, understated, a great color and a lot easier to maintain and enjoy than a ’68 Fastback 390.

    But I find the movie pretty much unwatchable other than the chase scene. I know current movies are made to hold the attention of people with almost no attention span so they are short and fast paced. But a lot of movies from the 60’s like Bullitt move like a glacier in pacing and never really get anywhere. On the whole, in my opinion movies, from the 60’s don’t hold up well over time.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      That must be why they keep remaking them.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        You forgot the air quotes Sub-600 most modern Hollywood “remakes” only vaguely resembled the original (Omen remake aside).

        A fresh take isn’t a bad thing but it seems most of the remakes I see today are just trying to cash in on the original name recognition then cramming in a bunch of overtly topical material to somehow make it relevant to today’s viewers while largely ignoring the original premise.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Good reference to Outland, one of my favorite almost-but-not-quite-forgotten films.

    As far as Bullitt goes, it’s a movie of its era. Even the Dirty Harry movies from back then seem slow paced compared to the over the top action movies of today. But I prefer the grit of the 70s – movies like Sorcerer, The French Connection, and Night Moves. That same grit also carried over into the 80s with To Live and Die In LA or Thief.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    This movie is significant because this was the first big car chase shot on location in San Francisco which is a city rife with hills. They told the city that everything would be done around 15 MPH and they weren’t too happy when they found out what was truly going on. The Mustang had to be seriously modified to keep up with the Charger. You have to keep in mind that these cars didn’t handle like today’s cars. The driving and the stunt work were extraordinary for the time period. Unless you are a “Car Person” you are not really going to appreciate this movie today.

    I would argue that things began to change once the remote control entered peoples living rooms. People got used to changing channels, and increased pacing. We developed a shorter attention span. This eventually influenced the Movie watching experience. Watching a movie from the fifties is an exercise in patience.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I like ‘70s car porn like ‘Dirty Mary Crazy Larry’, ‘Vanishing Point’, and even the ‘Mr. Majestyk’ Ford pickup chase. ‘Duel’ wasn’t bad either. Stunt driving made the films exciting, Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’ is the only modern car film I really liked. The ‘Transporter’ and ‘Fast and Furious’ films become tiresome, imho.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      For me, the “airborne rotation scrape the bomb off the underside of the car” was the bridge too far for the Transporter movies. That was the point where the cable needed to suspend my disbelief snapped.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Skip to the car chase, be underwhelmed, hit eject. I’m sure it was the greatest car chase ever at the time, but the chase scene in “To Live and Die in LA” is at least 10 times better. Yes no flying ’60s muscle battle, and if 12 years old, skip this post and go straight to “Dukes of Hazzard”.

    Except TLADILA is at least 100 times better than Bullitt, its stars also did much of the hairy driving, but the (’85) movie holds up well and one of the greatest movies of all time, I mean if you’re into stuff like excellent and outstanding directing/acting/writing/casting/cinematography/score/soundtrack/etc that actually overshadow the greatest car chase of all time but what do I know?

  • avatar
    Steve65

    If anyone else was inspired by this, TCM has the movie on the schedule in HD for Tuesday Feb 6, 3pm (PST).

  • avatar
    Driver8

    For fans of Bisset, and her assets in a wet white Tshirt, might I suggest ‘The Deep’.
    Also, ‘Class’ with the very young brat packers Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Random fun connection to Steve McQueen: he was baptized in the Little Flower Parish on the East side of Indy, he was from Beech Grove which is a short drive south from there.

  • avatar
    fallous

    Ditto the shout-out for Outland. It’s interesting that McQueen’s most iconic “car” movies (Bullitt and Le Mans) both start with prolonged absences of dialogue.

    McQueen’s movies in the late 60s and early 70s seemed to feature alienated anti-hero roles, which might reflect his own feelings about Hollywood.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    “which has treated me worse than Ike Turner treated Tina”

    You sir, win the internets today!

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I’d never heard of the Charlie Manson/Steve McQueen connection until I just read about it. McQueen was on a Manson hit list and it bugged him to the point of carrying a gun. According to McQueen, he was invited by Jay Sebring to go to Sharon Tate’s house on the night of the murders but his girlfriend wanted a quiet evening at home. That’s crazier than the Beach Boys’ Charlie encounter.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    One correction. Bisset wasn’t an artist. She was a civil engineer employed by San Francisco’s public works department. In the scene where McQueen visits her at work, she shows him how to find some engineering data in reference book.

    After McQueen wrecks his Mustang chasing the hitmen, he prevails upon Bisset to drive him to a murder scene in her Porsche Speedster.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    A fine review, but you had me at “Jacqueline Bisset at her most spectacular.”

    Bullitt was a pretty decent movie despite its rather silly name, and it’s worth remembering that the car chase was actually a pretty small part of it. There was a plot that made some sense, and good actors making it all work.

    I saw it when it first came out, plus a goodly number of times since. Might be time for another!

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I once read that police work consisted of long periods of stifling boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror. To that end, Bullitt is realistic. Unfortunately, as a movie going experience, it’s not the best.

      But it is memorable, and worthy of a place in film history.

  • avatar

    The documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man & LeMans, is free with Amazon Prime’s streaming service and is worth watching. It’s about how McQueen’s obsession about filming LeMans almost destroyed his career.

  • avatar
    7402

    I subjected my college-age kids to Bulitt about a year ago. They are fans of classical cinema and appreciated it, but I was surprised at their main take-away from the movie. They were shocked at how often Bulitt had to stop everything he was doing to find a payphone, get out of the car, dig for change, make the call, etc.

    Nowadays the whole world is a few seconds away on their smart phones.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Last time I saw Bullitt I thought it felt more like an episode of a TV show rather than a movie.
    .
    .

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I thought so as well (or maybe it was just the number of times they played “Bullitt” on TV when I was a kid). Either way, it works in this movie, and in others as well. Example: Alfred Hitchcock ditched his usual high-priced production team in favor of the TV crew from his series to make some flick called “Psycho.” That one turned out to be fairly good.

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Bullitt is just so packed with brilliant little details.

    The African American doctor, played by Georg Stanford Brown, in real life Mr Tyne Daly who played Clint Eastwood’s partner in The Enforcer

    The minimalist dialogue

    The eye movements between McQueen and his boss in the “he’s dead” scene

    The Mustang appearing in the Charger’s rear view mirror

    McQueen telling Vaughan “You sell whatever you want. Just don’t sell it here tonight”

    McQueen showing how real men don’t get dragged in to endless “we need to talk” conversations with women. (Impassive stare) “Time starts now”

    McQueen standing in front of Bisset when she walks in on the dead girl

    This quintessentially American film was directed by a Brit, from the army town of Aldershot, Hants: Peter Yates

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Malcolm Smith is GOD. As for a green pony car with badges I care not..

  • avatar
    Joss

    George Fowler peering out the back of the paddy wagon as the street recedes before him. That young McQueen scene has always stuck with me. St. Louis Bank Robbery 1959?

    I thought Bullitt a chEaPo, flimsy made-for-tv hit & miss that made hit. Good but overrated.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Thanks @Jack!

    This was a really wonderful read and a very thoughtful social commentary and movie critique.

    I appreciate it and thank you for it

  • avatar

    Thanks for the review, Jack. Just watched the movie again about 3 weeks ago. I remember seeing it on the “big screen”. Some of the shots during the chase made you feel like you were the one bouncing around SF in that car. Very cool! Lalo’s music was great. I especially liked the open – music and visual. As you pointed out, stuff to note for later reference.

    I think the only unanswered question for me was why the double unchained the door when the call came that Chambers and an associate were downstairs and wanted permission to come to the room. What was going on in his mind? His reaction when the gunmen enter the room makes it clear it was not what he was expecting. That being the case, my mind goes to “What was he expecting?” Add to that the stop at the hotel to pick up the “letter for Johnny” that was not there. How does that play into the scenario? None of these are negatives. I like movies that make you think, that aren’t immediately obvious.

    I think the thing about the end was a very late 60’s thing that began showing up more around that time and afterward. The whole questioning of life and my place in it; the apparent lack of things making sense in one area of life and another – Frank’s job vs Frank’s relationships outside of work. I know it’s cliche to say, but the Vietnam “conflict” and the general mood of the younger folks in our country is what the ending is partially trying to portray, in my mind.

    The tension at the airport was well done and made me feel like that’s the way it would really be; not tarted up for a movie. Many more things I liked about the movie that contribute to that, as you mentioned. Well worth a viewing.

  • avatar
    Geordie Guenther

    This is the best movie review I’ve read in a long time. Great insights, and it actually made me interested in seeing the movie, something I haven’t experienced much since Ebert died.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Yep, I liked it too.

  • avatar
    islander800

    Your review is excellent and spot on. It clearly shows the difference in film making, and the audience, 50 years ago versus today. Your point about non-stop money shots and attention spans today is right.

    I saw Bullitt as a late teenager in its initial 1968 theatrical release and it was stunning. Again, I agree that its popularity, as well as the early Bond films, was partly due to their exotic locals by most people’s experience – but McQueen was a huge star that made the film crackle. It really was a different time.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    This was from a time when you bought coffee at a diner and drank it properly black or with a couple lumps of sugar and some cream.

    Now days, they buy 500 calorie grande caremalattemochachinozingaboonazillas because that’s what marketing tells them to get even though the coffee is so horrible you couldn’t drink it black.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Jack, that is a good piece of writing.

    Always liked when the Charger’s driver clicked on his seatbelt. Time for business.

    Also liked Justin Tarr’s role as the informer. Tarr was one of the stars of The Rat Patrol. And Duvall as the cabbie. Bissett wearing just one of Bullitt’s shirts made a lasting impact.

    The Old Man who at the time was a police detective, took me as a kid to see Bullitt. The Department was at that time experiencing problems. Old School, often WWII vets in charge, meanwhile the young recruits had been exposed to Hippies and society was challenging what had been accepted norms of behaviour. Mid-career cops seemed to be caught in the middle. Believe that the movie caught much of the Zeitgeist of that era.

    It also started the fad of naming the protagonists after weapons: Cannon, Beretta, Magnum, etc.

    My ‘young adult’ son has watched it and learned to appreciate it. After Bullitt, had him watch Lee Marvin in Point Blank. Marvin was a true ‘bad a*s’.

    Personally I cannot stomach any CGI or those stupid, physics defying ‘stunts’ in F&F and Michael Bay directed garbage. Realism is where it should be at.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    Reminder that it’s being shown today on TCM, in HD. 3:00PM Pacific time. I assume that means 3:00 PM eastern time as well.


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