Bullitt (1968)

bullitt poster 1968 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic cop mystery thriller with a great look

Pacing might not be for everyone

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Bullitt

Studio:  Solar Productions

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  October 17, 1968

MPAA Rating:  PG

bullitt steve mcqueen robert vaughn

I’m a cocky government suit, Bullitt…so you are obligated to cross me!

San Francisco detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) has been tasked with protecting Chicago mobster informant Johnny Ross safe as Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) prepares to use him as a star witness in a Senate investigation into organize crime.  When Ross is targeted in the safehouse, Bullitt realizes that he has to find out who knew about Ross’s location and who is trying to silence him.  With potential danger from within the police department, Bullitt might have to go rogue…and no one can be trusted.

Directed by Peter Yates, Bullitt is an action-detective thriller.  The film adapts the Robert L. Fish 1963 novel Mute Witness.  The film was a critical and financial success.  It won an Academy Award for Best Film Editing with a nomination for Best Sound, and it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1997.

bullitt 1968 ford mustang car chase san francisco

When you visit San Francisco and try to recreate this famous scene, for some reason the police become involved…

Following in the footsteps of James Dean, Steve McQueen (also a Hoosier native) became the king of cool with Bullitt.  With his no-nonsense approach to stopping crime, he was like Dirty Harry with more of a moral compass, but he also felt like the start of something new.  Bullitt still hits.

The movie has a decent mystery and it almost feels like a non-mystery because of how the film is put together.  It is oddly paced and it isn’t afraid to take time with scenes that today would be punctuated by gunfights or dialogue.  Instead, it wisely uses its action scenes to make them bigger and better.  As Bullitt weaves his way through solving the crime, he butts heads with everyone, but he gets it done.

McQueen is rather soft spoken and silent.  Unlike someone like a Harry Callahan who always has a catch phrase and he grunts and groans, Bullitt is almost stoic.  He can act on impulse, but he thinks a lot about his actions when he isn’t forced to act fast.  McQueen is backed up by a solid cast including the always slimy Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Simon Oakland, and Norman Fell among others.

bullitt ending steve mcqueen airport

9-11 really ruined cool airport chases

The movie also feels like a big jump forward in detective/crime movies.  It feels like the start of the really gritty period in Hollywood.  The car chases are clean, but they feel more real.  The city of San Francisco is on display and along with the script that takes its time, scenes in the movie also feel slow and deliberate…which might not sit with everyone.

Bullitt is a movie that people should still see.  It is a great flipside to the first Dirty Harry which came out a few years later, has a similar set-up, the same location, and a totally different vibe…but you can see a lot of Bullitt in the Dirty Harry series (or at least a reaction to it).  Bullitt remains a great film and earns its place in action history.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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