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What a change of pace this movie is as compared with its genre today.
I'm no old fogey but would that modern directors become smart enough
take several pages from its book.
The Bullit character is a precursor of Dirty Harry but a bit more cerebral. Stylistically, the director sets the stage beautifully for McQueen's Bullit. The movie has a European feel (director Peter Yates is a Brit) and achieves its dark mood through quiet understatement. The musical score for instance. Today, music is overly used, overly loud and manipulative. (i.e. in case you are not moved by this scene, here are a division of amplified violins to remind you to weep). In 'Bullit' the music is sparingly used and doesn't intrude at all. It complements the directorial style without setting the agenda.
The feeling of reserved naturalism is achieved through editing and dialogue. There really aren't very many lines in the movie and when characters do speak they are very succinct. Notice the last 15-20 minutes of the movie, most of which takes place at the airport. Hardly a line in it. There is none of the chattiness so prevalent today (especially post "Pulp Fiction") which is so tedious (unless the script is tip-top, which is rare).
Editing is, perhaps, its greatest strong point. The many long edits deserve equal credit with the dialogue in setting the low-key mood. The cinema verite dialogue of the airport scenes (and, say, the scene where McQueen and Don Gordon search the trunk) combined with the long cuts add greatly to understated feel while adding realism.
And the performances are top notch. The spare script helps McQueen shine since the taciturn moodiness fits his persona to a tee. There are very fine performances from all of the supporting cast, from Don Gordon to Bisset to Fell to Duvall to Oakland. This is a great movie for watching faces. Note the expressions of the hit men during the chase scene (just another example of this movie letting the little touches speak volumes).
The chase scene certainly deserves its billing as one of the best in movie history. Recently, 'The Transporter' was lauded for its opening chase sequence. The one in 'Bullit' is a marvel compared. In 'The Transporter' sequence I'm not sure there is a cut that lasts more than three seconds. In 'Bullit' it is again the editing which sets it apart here. The long edits give you the feel of acceleration and deceleration, of tire smoke and gears, of wind and the roller coaster San Francisco streets. You are given the time to place yourself in the frame. In short, 'Bullit' uses real craftsmanship. Films like 'The Transporter' use hundreds of quick edits to mimic the danger and immediacy of 'Bullit' but it comes across as hot air, confusion instead of clarity. The two scenes are perfect set pieces of easy (and hollow) Mtv-style flash versus real directorial substance.
...from from rogue cops who make their own rules, to... rogue cops who
seriously know how to put the pedal to the medal. Only Bogie and John
Wayne were cinematic tough guys before Frank Bullitt came along, and it
was Bullitt that inspired Dirty Harry and every rogue cop movie as a
result. If you were looking for the first modern cop thriller, well
here it is. Accept no substitutes. In today's over-blown and effects
laden (for better of for worse) era, people often forget that all those
films began with movies like this one.
The story has Lieutenant Frank Bullitt receiving an assignment to protect a star witness in a high profile case that could bring down a powerful crime organization. Bullitt and his men take turns guarding the witness, but before long there is a hit and the witness is mortally wounded, and Bullitt takes the case into his own hands. The resulting mystery is both Grade-A Hollywood entertainment (rare these days) and a believable character portrait of a man engulfed by his work in a cruel world.
Of course one cannot talk about his movie without mentioning the legendary car chase, which is one of the best out there, but is not the main part of the movie as many make it out to be. If you see this movie just for some pedal to the medal action you will be let down. The focus of the movie is on Bullitt and the car chase, while very exciting and fun to watch, is one of the many scenes that show Bullitt's near obsession to work. Unlike today's crap action movies there is no 37 car pile up, no cars flipping over simply because the bad guys are driving them.
Also the finale of the film, a foot chase at an airport, has our hero firing two shots from his pistol and that is the only time he uses it in the movie. This film demonstrates that action is best when the result of a character's emotions and not a director's ambition to blow stuff up. Bullitt wants to get the bottom of the case, he wants to find out who's been following him around town and that is the result of the action scenes. In the end the film is a true classic and Frank Bullitt is a character to remember. 10/10
Rated PG: violence (though if it were released today, it probably would get a PG-13)
The late 1960s saw two classic, hard-boiled thrillers set in San
Fransico; John Boorman's stylised 'Point Blank', and Peter Yates'
'Bullitt'. Calling your hero Bullitt might seem an unsubtle way to
emphasise his macho qualities, but in fact Steve MacQueen plays him as
a quiet man, not some wise-talking maverick: he does what he has to do,
but takes no pleasure in his actions; and survives the roughness of his
work not by becoming a monster, but simply by becoming a little less
human. It's a believable portrait, and the film as a whole has a
procedural feel: there are action scenes, but these are kept in their
place in the overall design.
Today, the film is most famous for its celebrated car chase, which makes excellent use, as indeed does the movie as a whole, of the bay area locations, but is not actually shot that excitingly: the conclusion at the airport is more original, though it roots the film in the time when it was permissible to take a loaded gun onto a plane. But overall this is still a classy film, dry, exciting and bleak, and among the very best films of its day. William Friedkin's brilliant 'The French Connection', made a short while afterwards, would appear to owe it a debt.
Bullitt is an extraordinary film, memorable, powerful, and absolutely riveting. The plot has twists and turns that are believable and lack any pretense of being forced or artificial. Justly heralded for its tremendous car chase--a tribute to legendary driver Bill Hickman, arguably the finest of all motion picture drivers--the film as well captures the feel of gritty detective work in a form that has been copied frequently since, but rarely, if ever, equaled. The film is a delight as a period piece: the easy-going, already laid-back Bay area culture of the late 1960's and early 1970's, the tension between the cool, vaguely anti-establishment Bullitt and the straight-laced local officials and department heads that he finds himself compelled to work with. The other actors are themselves a superb supporting cast: old-timers like Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, an oily (and vaguely Bobby Kennedy-ish) Robert Vaughn, and Don Gordon (as Bullitt's long-suffering but intensely loyal partner). But, as well, there are memorable newcomers: George Sanford Brown as an overworked doctor, Robert Duvall as a sharp taxi driver, and Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt's trophy architect-girlfriend. Lalo Schifrin contributed a superb, memorable score--just the right mix of jazz and brass and percussion. And, of course, that glorious Mustang. . . .!!! Not to be missed!!!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS, sort of.
"Bullitt" seems to be remembered mostly for the central car chase, which was state-of-the-art for its time and still works extremely well. But this signature film of the late '60s was more than screeching tires and muscle cars flying down the hills of San Francisco.
McQueen was not a great "actor," in the sense of being able to play a variety of characters convincingly -- but then, most film actors are not. Bogart, Grant, Gable, Wayne, Dean, Eastwood et al. each developed a distinctive screen character that audiences found appealing and then built their careers on that character. McQueen could be charming in romantic roles ("Love with the Proper Stranger"), and he had the guts (and box-office clout) to risk playing against his typical character in "The Reivers" and "An Enemy of the People." But his basic screen persona, as exemplified in "Bullitt," was the cool, reserved physical act-er who distrusted words and relied on his own body and wits to survive in a hostile world. His characters are consummate professionals whose skills and competence give their lives meaning in the chaos of war and urban crime. Audiences respond to McQueen because of that self-reliance and competence (the same quality that made the young James Cagney so appealing) and his healthy skepticism about convention and authority.
Frank Bullitt was a particularly interesting character for McQueen because he was, for the first time, playing an actual authority figure, a respected police detective, but one still caught up in the intrigues of the "establishment," personified by a politically ambitious DA, Chalmers (Robert Vaughan). When Bullitt fails to protect the DA's mob witness and one of his own men is badly shot up, the detective sets out to find out the truth of the situation and ultimately discovers that the DA has been conned. It's interesting, in this pre-Watergate film, that there's no hint of criminality or corruption about Vaughan's character or any of Bullitt's San Francisco police superiors. Bullitt's ultimate contempt for Chalmers stems both from an innate distrust of politicians (who are willing to compromise standards of professionalism for political gain) as well as the the DA's sheer incompetence in dealing with the Mob.
The plot requires close attention; I recall that it took me two or three viewings before I understood everything that was going on in the film. But "Bullitt" rewards repeat viewings with new wrinkles and insights. The film also benefits from the great location photography and from a superb cast of character actors. Bullitt's fellow detectives (Don Gordon and Carl Reindel) are likewise dedicated professionals; his boss (Simon Oakland) is also a pro, sympathetic to Bullitt but wary of the political pressures on the police department. Norman Fell is downright scary as a police captain allied with the smooth, oily Chalmers; and Robert Duvall stands out in a rather small role. The locations and supporting actors lend a realism to "Bullitt" that also make it satisfying after multiple viewings.
Ultimately,"Bullitt" is not about the car chase and shoot-outs, but about a person trying to maintain his humanity and self-respect while doing a violent, sordid job that society demands and in which he obviously believes. At one point, Bullitt's luscious girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset, at her most appealing) happens on a crime scene and realizes the true nature of her lover's work. "You're living in a sewer, Frank!" she cries. And it is a very expensive place to live. Bullitt shows humane instincts and flashes of warmth and humor, but his attitude toward life is one of suspicion and skepticism. He's constantly on his guard, on edge, seldom able to relax, even with his girl. The film ends ambiguously, as Bullitt quietly contemplates the emotional price he pays for his authority and for doing a soul-grinding job at which he has become quite adept. It's this deeper layer of character and emotion, not the car chase, that make this film a classic.
McQueen was really the King of Cool. I have read many comments here about this film, and some say it is slow, some say it is an action thriller. Thrilling it is! Steve did not have to jabber in every scene to dominate this film. The car chase is unequaled to this day. How can anything on the road in later years compare to the "muscle cars" of the late 60s? But Steve was the star, make no mistake, and even though the dialogue was minimal, it was enough. Steve McQueen had that power on the screen. He remains one of Hollywood's best, even though he passed away over twenty years ago. We will not see the likes of him for many more years. Women loved him, men loved him too. If you have not seen many of his films, watch any you can. Watch him in Tom Horn (1980), and Papillon (1973). Try The Getaway (1972), Junior Bonner (1972)and the humorous The Reivers (1969). Of course, The Sand Pebbles (1966) , The Great Escape (1963), and the ever classic The Magnificent Seven(1960) are among his most popular films. You never go wrong with any of these.
Steve McQueen's career peaked in 1968 with "Bullitt" and "The Thomas Crown
Affair," both ideal vehicles for his cool persona. Although superior to its
recent remake, "Crown" has not aged gracefully, while "Bullitt" has held up
Cool though he may be, Frank Bullitt is a totally committed detective, perhaps even more so than Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle or Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry Callahan. Bullitt is a complete professional who never takes his eye off the objective, no matter how much interference he encounters from his superiors or from Robert Vaughan's scheming politician, Walter Chalmers. And Bullitt, unlike Doyle or Callahan, operates without the histrionics. No one-liners, no yelling and screaming tantrums from this officer. You may not like him very much, but you have to respect his dedication to duty and you'll quickly share his absolute contempt for Chalmers.
"Bullitt" is best remembered for its spectacular car chase in which McQueen reportedly did most of his own driving. But this is not primarily an action film. Aside from the chase and the final shootout at SFO, there's not a lot of violence. Most of the attention is on Bullitt's maneuvering to unravel the mystery and to keep Chalmers off his back.
Recommended if you like McQueen or policiers in general. The pace may be a little slow for people under 30 who are used to a more slam-bang, less cerebral approach to this sort of thing, but "Bullitt" is still worth your time. Just don't expect "Lethal Weapon."
Steve McQueen stars as Frank Bullitt, a tough San Francisco police
lieutenant assigned to protect a mob witness. When the witness is gunned
down, it is up to Bullitt to exact his own brand of justice, much to the
dismay of Robert Vaughn, a smarmy congressman who wishes to further his
political career by prosecuting organized crime. He holds Bullitt
responsible for the death of his star witness, and it is up to the super
to bring the killer down, while showing Vaughn that he is nothing but a
McQueen's performance in this all-time classic is the archetype for not only anyone who aspires to become an actor, but also for the proper way to live like a real man. Think about it. He disregards such nonsense as police procedure, he gets to drive a really cool car, and if that's not enough, Jacqueline Bisset worships the ground he walks on. As far as I'm concerned, this guy's the luckiest guy on earth!
As for the supporting cast, you could not have asked for a better one. The great Simon Oakland is perfect as Bullitt's sympathetic captain. Fans may remember Oakland as the psychologist at the end of "Psycho," in what may be the most brawny portrayal of a shrink in modern cinema. Robert Vaughn exudes the right amount of smarminess and stupidity associated with politicians. Norman Fell displays why he is one of the most underrated talents of this half-century in his portrayal of one of Vaughn's associates. Jacqueline Bisset shows up for window dressing as Bullitt's girlfriend. (Let's face it. If she were a "real-life" girlfriend, she would probably cry and nag McQueen all day, preventing him from engaging in really cool activities like speeding through the streets of San Francisco, chasing after lowlife scum.) And as a bonus, Robert Duvall appears briefly in the greatest portrayal of a cab driver of all time. (That is, of course, until Mr. T starred in "D.C. Cab.")
The movie wisely dispenses with such useless elements as plot and emotion. Instead, genius auteur Peter Yates allows McQueen to concentrate on looking intense and dealing with all the existential problems of any real man, such as how to ignore stupid politicians and treat them as if they are irrelevant.
Aside from the NECESSARY violence, there is nothing in this PG-rated film that any self-respecting parent would find objectionable. In fact, when my daughter can appreciate quality films, aside from the Barney collection, this will be the first of many required-viewing films for her, followed by "The Dirty Dozen," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and "Dirty Harry."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Newman, after "Hud," continued his career with films that clearly
signified the evolution of the anti-hero into a man who actively
opposed the wrongs he saw around him
This opposition was to be
effectively personified by Steve McQueen
His early films that included
"Hell Is for Heroes," "The Great Escape," "Love With the Proper
Stranger," and "Baby the Rain Must Fall," all roles which, together
with his addiction to motorcycle racing, led to McQueen's
personification as anti-hero
This reached its peak in "Bullitt," the film which finally confirmed both McQueen's image and his claim to stardom
McQueen is assigned to guard Johnny Ross (Pat Renella). When Ross is gunned down in his dingy hotel room hideout, Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), the ambitious assistant DA who hopes to expose the syndicate, threatens to ruin Bullitt's career if Ross dies But Bullitt is suspicious and, when Ross does in fact die, he suppresses the news while he investigates
McQueen's ability to convey Bullitt's contempt for Chalmers' threats and his knowledge that even though he might lose his job, he would never lose his integrity confirmed his image
Bullitt was Hud, Seventies style; he knows the world is full of crap but he is pretty sure that it is possible to keep out of most of it
The film is distinguished by a splendid car chase through the streets of San Francisco, with Detective Bullitt in a Mustang, chasing the baddies in their sedan... which takes one's mind off the tedious plot
Steve McQueen was usually worth watching no matter what he was in,
although he did a few stinkers like everyone else. This is not one of
them; he's excellent here as an intense but low-key cop. It's a pretty
solid police thriller which features a famous car-chase scene that
supposedly set the standard (or maybe it did at the time of release.)
What's interesting to note, according to a documentary on the DVD, is that McQueen did his own driving! No stuntman for him, even at 110 miles per hour through the streets. Speaking of streets, San Francisco always makes for an interesting local.
Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon, Jacqueline Bissett, Simon Oakland and Robert Duvall complete the big-name cast, but this is McQueen's movie all the way.....and, for a film almost 40 years old, it's not very dated.
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