Written by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: October 17, 1968
DIRECTOR: Peter Yates
CINEMATOGRAPHY: William A. Fraker
WRITERS: Alan R. Trustman, Harry Kleiner
MUSIC: Lalo Schifrin
In 1963, author Robert L. Fish released “Mute Witness”. Like most novels, the major film studios petitioned to get the film rights, which eventually went to Warner Bros. The film was adapted for the screen by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner. Lalo Schifrin was eventually bought on-board to write the musical score.
“Bullitt” is a signature film for its main star, Steve McQueen. The actor was already a household name thanks to his roles in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) and “The Great Escape” (1963). However, it was this film that would be considered one of his best movies.
This is due to the fact that he was one of the first to play a rebellious police officer who defies orders in an attempt to seek justice his way. This would later be imitated in films such as “The French Connection” (1971) and “Dirty Harry” (also 1971).
In the film, McQueen plays Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, an officer who is personally chosen by an ambitious politician named Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) to protect a key witness named Johnny Ross. After one of his officers is badly injured and Ross is killed in a hit, Bullitt attempts to go after those responsible.
Along the way, he will have to avoid running into Chalmers who is attempting to put the entire blame of Ross’ death on Bullitt and the police department.
In today’s cop films, the police officer would probably try to get revenge on those involved. McQueen plays the role as that of a real cop. Even though he is upset over his fellow officer’s injuries, he knows that is part of the job. He only wants to find the killers in an attempt to make things right.
Even though McQueen is playing Bullitt as a real cop, though, that does not mean that Bullitt won’t find himself in some extraordinary predicaments. The biggest one of which is what’s considered one of the greatest car chases to ever grace the big screen. Of course, the chase is great but it is the set-up that is intense.
When Bullitt realizes he is being tailed, he is able to lose his pursuers rather easily only to show up behind them. The hunters have become the hunted. When the driving hit man realizes that Bullitt is behind him, there is an intense moment where he begins to sweat, slowly buckles up and finally guns it down the streets of San Francisco with Bullitt not too far behind.
This chase, not unlike McQueen’s character, became something to be imitated time and time again. William Friedkin, the director of “The French Connection”, said that the chase featured in his film was directly inspired by him seeing “Bullitt” and wanting to do something similar.
Of course, it also made the Ford’s 1968 Mustangs extremely popular and throughout the years, the car company has promoted the film with the latest version of the car. One of the best examples is TV spot to promote the 2005 Mustang. Ford promoted the car with a promo that featured Steve McQueen in a “Field of Dreams” inspired commercial, which can be found on YouTube.
Beyond the car chase, the rest of the film takes its time to tell its story and in a modern world where every action film needs something to happen every ten minutes, “Bullitt’s” slow pace is actually refreshing. Like the chase, there are incredibly tense moments before the final, explosive action occurs.
The film is a true classic with a classic star. McQueen turns in a fantastic performance and the film should not be missed by any self-respecting moviegoer. This one truly deserves to be remembered.