BULLITT (1968) 

Steve McQueen
Robert Vaughn
Jacqueline Bisset
Don Gordon
Simon Oakland
Norman Fell
George Stanford Brown
Vic Tayback
Robert Duvall
Carl Reindel

Peter Yates



Time: 113 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Action/Police/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Nomination for Best Sound.

I'm sorry but there's just something about Steve McQueen that I can't resist. This is only the third movie I've seen him in but I'm definitely hooked...and I don't generally like blonds. For those of you who have not yet had the infinite pleasure of watching this cool cat illuminate the big screen, I feel sorry for you. You might think I was letting my hormones cloud my better judgement and you may be right, but I defy you to watch this film and not fall in love with McQueen's quiet, sexy persona. He's the ultimate rogue cop, one who does his duty without fanfare or unnecessary violence. One who meets the ugliness head-on because it's his duty, not out of revenge or anger. Don't get me wrong, I love DIRTY HARRY which is clearly derived from this flick, but there's just something more appealing about the character of Bullitt, something more human and engaging going on behind those crystal blue eyes.

Like most cop flicks that came after, this is a story of dubious politicians, dangerous criminals and a cop that refuses to succumb to bribery or coercion. After a fabulous opening sequence where we are witness to an attempted mob hit on one of their own, we are introduced to Frank Bullitt, an up-and-coming police lieutenant in San Francisco. It seems Senator Chalmers (Vaughn) has requested him personally to oversee the protection of Pete Ross, the very same mob man who escaped certain death in Chicago, while he awaits to testify at Chalmers' trial of the century. It's a simple 48 hour gig. Chalmers needs him alive to nail the lid against the organization, which will certainly boost the careers of all involved in bringing the mob to justice. Chalmers is a little too self-serving and arrogant for Bullitt's taste, but he takes the job since it needs to be done. It doesn't take long for this baby-sitting job to turn into bloodshed. With one of his men injured and the key witness less than able to testify, Bullitt takes the investigation into his own hands, determined to figure out how the killers found their man.

"Come on, now. Don't be naive, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public."

Chalmers's threats to bring Bullitt up on charges of negligence fall on deaf ears. Bullitt knows there's something more going on and refuses to stop digging until he uncovers who ratted out their supposedly secret location. With the help of his partner Delgetti (Gordon), they manage to keep Chalmers at bay and discover that there's more to Ross's fleeing Chicago then he told Chalmers. The fact that Bullitt found the killers, chased them all over San Francisco in his souped up Mustang, and got shot at by them, only to have them die tragically in a spectacular car crash, means nothing to Chalmers. He doesn't care how many bodies pile up, without his witness he's going to lose in court and he's not going down alone. However, it's good old-fashioned police work that saves the day. A little investigating into Ross's initial movements in San Francisco illuminates the scam behind the hit. In a nail-bitting finale, Bullitt brings his man to justice, but it doesn't exactly have the ending Chalmers was praying for.

For fans of the more current action/police dramas like LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD, BULLITT may seem somewhat slow and dated, but that doesn't mean it's a bad movie. This is an intelligent crime film that actually shows the characters using their brains as well as their guns. Most film these days rely on break-neck car chases, wild stunts and debilitating hand-to-hand combat to get their story across. Though there is a great car chase through the streets of San Francisco – the first to use the familiar techniques used today – this is a quieter film, one that relies on relationships, dialogue and expressions to set it's mood and tell its tale. Much like Eastwood, McQueen is a minimalist actor, one who speaks softly and carries a big stick, so to speak. When he talks, you listen, and when he just looks at you, you learn even more. The plot is complicated enough to keep you intrigued and wondering what's really going on, but simple enough to be understood the first time around. I actually had no idea how it was actually going to turn out, which for me is a big plus.

The only supporting players that really make any sort of impression are Robert Vaughn and Jacqueline Bisset. Not that the other actors are bad. They do their jobs well. They're just playing cops, so there isn't much sparkle to grab onto. Which brings me to Bisset. She doesn't have a big or spectacular part here. In fact, she's mostly eye candy as Bullitt's artist girlfriend. Her importance to the film, besides being just gorgeous, is that she helps humanize Bullitt, the one element Dirty Harry's sorely lacking. He's still a man's man, it just makes him a deeper character when we can see that he's able to love and be loved, despite all the horror and violence in his life. Vaughn plays his usual amoral slimebag with great aplomb and swagger. You're never quiet sure what his intentions are, whether he was in on the hit or not, which gives the story an added little zest. Sure, a senator possibly behind a murder seems pretty ho-hum by today's standards, but back in the 60s that was quite a fine line to be walking.

The film steps over another somewhat controversial line by making the emergency room doctor African American. You'd think nothing of that today, however it's a pretty ballsy move considering the time. In fact, though we're supposed to be equal, I can't remember the last movie that had a black doctor in it. So much for progress. Duvall has such a small role that if you blink you'll miss him. If you're tired of the craziness and over-blown plots of the current crop of cop thrillers, give BULLITT a chance. It might be more subtle and quiet, but it gets the job done. What more do you need?

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