Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bullitt (1968)

Bullitt packs a punch.

This 1968 police drama from director Peter Yates (Breaking Away, Krull) is best remembered for its electrifying car chase through the hilly streets of San Francisco. That scene no doubt played a big role in Bullitt being added to the national film registry by the National Film Preservation Board in 2007.

That roughly 10-minute scene still stands up very well more than four decades later. There's a quick seatbelt shot that prepares viewers for what's to come as the chase prepares to heat up.

But Bullitt also offers viewers a very solid cast of actors including Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Don Gordon and Simon Oakland. Plus, director Yates isn't afraid to use silence frequently. Conversations between characters are held at a distance. Some times characters are looking at something or someone. Hurray for a soundtrack that's not wall-to-wall dialogue and music.

Bullitt (McQueen) is a San Francisco police lieutenant assigned to keep watch over a Senate witness who's on the run from the mob. Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is the oily senator who expects great things to happen to his career when Johnny Ross testifies.

But when a couple of hitmen get to Ross before he can speak, Bullitt is under the gun. Chalmers wants to know why his starmaking tool is dead. Bullitt is suspicious about how the man he was supposed to protect was tracked down so easily. He has the support of his immediate supervisor, Capt. Bennet (Simon Oakland), but another superior, Baker (Norman Fell!) wants to kiss up to Chalmers and ride his expected wave of upcoming political power. Bullitt isn't interested in kissing anyone's backside. There are sparks during his several run-ins with Chalmers.

With all that on-the-job intrigue, Bullitt still takes time to look at things on the home front with Bullitt and his better half, Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset). She's an artist. Her life is miles away from the brutal world, where violence is commonplace, that Bullitt inhabits. "You're living in a sewer, Frank," she tells him. The film's final scene relates to the domestic front and is a memorable one.

While the car chase gets all the attention, how about the film's climax at the San Francisco airport when Bullitt and his partner Delgetti (Don Gordon) finally connect all the dots. Hands up for all the other films you can remember where there was a foot chase in-between planes preparing for lift off.

Bullitt was nominated for two Oscars (editing, sound) and won a statue for the former. This film hits the mark for a solid evening's entertainment.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Norman Fell is remembered for his work in television's Three's Company. Simon Oakland starred in Baa Baa Black Sheep.

It must have hurt, but both Fell and Vaughn appeared in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. Larry Linville (M*A*S*H) and June Lockhart (Lost in Space) are also in the cast. Yikes.

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