Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Mystery McQueen is King in Bullitt (Bullitt 1968)

McQueen is King in Bullitt (Bullitt 1968)

After recently watching the 1968 cop action flick Bullitt I would like to share my view on this classic Steve McQueen movie and suggest who should watch it and why. This film is a perfect example of why McQueen is such an irresistible actor to watch as it includes typical McQueen witty dialogue and one of the most classic car chases ever put to film. It’s exciting, character-driven and perfectly shows why Steve McQueen was the most popular actor in Hollywood during parts of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


Our story begins with a mysterious man travelling around San Francisco, first at a hotel and then making a phone call. All the while he is being watched. We learn this man is Johnny Ross (Pat Renella), a Chicago gangster who swindled two million dollars from “the Organization” and is the key witness in an upcoming trial. We then meet lieutenant Frank Bullitt (McQueen) who is a rebellious and wild (since when does McQueen not play such characters?) plainclothesmen police officer who is acquired by a big shot lawyer named Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) to protect this witness from the mob for 48 hours until the trial. We also are introduced to Bullitt’s girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) who questions how Bullitt is not touched by the violence and death he lives with while patrolling the dangerous San Francisco streets. The story hits off from there and is filled with suspenseful twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the final credit role. You will find yourself asking as Cathy did, “What will happen in time?” As Bullitt says “Time starts now.” This is simply Steve McQueen at his best.


I really thought that Steve McQueen did a fine job playing his typical masculine, anti-hero type character. He looks comfortable driving in his fast Ford Mustang and sounds great delivering sweet lines such as “You work your side of the street and I’ll work mine.” Although I would have liked to have seen more of those witty lines rather than the prolonged action scenes, I thought he fit well with the role. Robert Vaughn also does a fine job playing the threatening and intense lawyer, as does Don Gordon who plays McQueen’s solid side kick. Jacqueline Bisset did the best she could, but to be honest I thought her character was not needed as she only really gets three or four scenes in the film.


Throughout this film I was captivated by the cinematography and little details that director Peter Yates put into the film. An example would be when Bullitt spies the taxi that Ross was driving in earlier in the film through the car wash. The camera is filled with either water or soap as Bullitt is seen looking on. The same bobble head in the back of the taxi that was clearly visible at the beginning of the film is shown again and the result is priceless. The only problem I had with the movie was the prolonged scenes. At about an hour and forty five minutes the movie was average in  length, but there were several scenes that should have been cut out. These include one scene in which we see Bullitt having dinner at a restaurant with Cathy while a jazz band plays on. Another we see him buying groceries before walking back to his apartment. Ironically the movie won the 1968 Oscar for best editing. I also enjoyed knowing that the movie had a large influence on movies and TV shows after that. The ten minute long car chase scene evoked many similar spin offs. The movie also casted two African Americans in important roles (Captain Bennet and Doctor Willard) which was not done too much during the racial turbulent 1960’s. I also couldn’t help but thinking about Starsky and Hutch throughout this film. Everything from the African American Captain, the fast cars and turtle neck sweaters must have definitely been an inspiration on that series.


I did not take many morals from this story but the film is filled with a sense that Bullitt treats his career as almost a game. He wants to work the day, maybe help the world and then go home to see his girlfriend without any morals involved. This is evident in a scene where his girlfriend (after walking in on a  gory crime scene) asks “Aren’t you ever touched by any of this violence and death you live in? You’re in the sewer Frank.” That is the beauty of the film as it shows the character of a cop as he simply does his job. Also the last scene of the film is priceless as it reveals more of Bullitt’s regretful character.


Although the film was only rated PG, on today’s standards it would definitely deserve a PG-13 rating as there are bodies and blood visible and a couple of intense scenes. Although there is very little foul language in the picture I would still not recommend the film to children (or even some teenagers) as this movie gets complex and leaves you with a serious tone despite the cool action. This film is made for the action lovers, and people who love a good character-based film. Although on today’s standards the action is low tech hopefully the audience will appreciate the film for what it is.




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