Bullitt

There are more than a few movies that should never be remade, some because the originals are so horrible that it would be unconscionable to throw another bad film at the public. But some films are so well made that it’s doubtful that they could be improved upon.

Bullitt is one of the latter films. Sure, the under thirty group may find Bullitt too cerebral for them because they are used to explosions, car chases, fires, bullets flying everywhere and body parts scattered about. If you’re able to enjoy a movie that you have to pay attention to, this is a movie for you.

Steve McQueen stars as Detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt in this 1968 film. He’s assigned to guard a star mob witness by his bosses because of the influence of an ambitious politician, Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) who insisted that Bullitt take the job because he “made good press” and would help Chalmer’s career. Vaughn does an excellent job portraying the conniving Chalmers against McQueen’s low-keyed Bullitt character.

Bullitt and his team, Sergeant Delgetti (Don Gordon) and Sergeant Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel), were sent to a seedy hotel where the witness, Johnny Ross, was waiting in the room that Chalmers had set up for him. Bullitt notices right away that the hotel room wasn’t a very secure place to house a star witness against the mob.

Delgetti takes the first shift guarding the witness while Stanton is scheduled to take the second shift and Bullitt the third. During Stanton’s shift, two hit men enter the room and shoot both Stanton and Ross with a shotgun. The strange thing is that Ross unchained the door for them himself.

Stanton received a leg wound and came through surgery fine. With Ross, however, it was touch and go. One of the hit men showed up at the hospital to finish Ross off. Bullitt chased him through the basement of the hospital but lost him when he escaped through an outside door.

While Bullit was chasing the man through the basement, Ross went into cardiac arrest and the hospital staff were unable to revive him. Bullitt asked Dr. Wilard to keep the death quiet. He told Delgetti to have the body taken to the morgue in a private ambulance and place there under a “John Doe”. Chalmers, of course, was very upset when he found out that his witness had been abducted by Bullitt who wouldn’t tell him where Ross was.

The hit men started following Bullitt and it wasn’t long before Bullitt spotted them. What followed is probably filmdom’s first spectacular car chase scene. The scene was shown without camera tricks such as speed up the film to make it look as if the cars were going faster than they really were. The drivers reached speeds of over a hundred miles an hour with Bullitt in his Ford Mustang and the hit men in their Dodge Charger. The two professional gunmen die in a fiery crash at the end of the scene.

Bullitt found evidence that the man who was purported to be Johnny Ross and was killed was actually a man named Albert Renick, a car salesman from Chicago. Ross had him set up to be killed so that Ross could safely leave the country under Renick’s name with the organization’s money.

What follows is a great airport foot chase where Bullitt pursues Renick/Ross across busy runways and in the airport terminal itself. This scene alone is worth watching the movie for.

Look for Robert Duvall playing a cab driver in this film, even though he only has a couple of very short scenes. Also look for Jacqueline Bisset playing the part of Bullit’s architect girlfriend who, up until near the end of the story, doesn’t really have too much of an idea what Bullitt’s job really involves.

The movie was based on Robert L. Pike’s novel Mute Witness.

Cast

  • Steve McQueen – Lieut. Frank Bullitt
  • Robert Vaughn – Walter Chalmers
  • Jacqueline Bisset – Cathy
  • Don Gordon – Sgt. Delgetti
  • Robert Duvall – Weissberg
  • Simon Oakland – Captain Sam Bennett
  • Norman Fell – Captain Baker
  • Georg Stanford Brown – Dr. Willard
  • Justin Tarr – Eddy
  • Carl Reindel – Sgt. Carl Stanton
  • Felice Orlandi – Albert Edward Renick
  • Vic Tayback – Pete Ross
  • Robert Lipton – First Aide
  • Ed Peck – Wescott
  • Pat Renella – Johnny Ross