Bullitt is a 1968 American dramatic thriller film directed by Peter Yates and produced by Philip D'Antoni. It stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn and Jacqueline Bisset. The screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner was based on the 1963 novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish, writing under the pseudonym Robert L. Pike. Lalo Schifrin wrote the original jazz-inspiredscore, arranged for brass and percussion. Robert Duvall has a small part as a cab driver who provides information to McQueen.
The film was made by McQueen's Solar Productions company, with his then-partner Robert E. Relyea as executive producer. Released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, the film was a critical and box office smash, later winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller) and receiving a nomination for Best Sound. Writers Trustman and Kleiner won a 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Bullitt is notable for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, regarded as one of the most influential in movie history.
In 2007, Bullitt was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2008, the Ford Motor Company produced the Mustang Bullitt model for the 40th anniversary of the film.
- 2 Cast
- 3 Car chase
- 4 Soundtrack
- 5 Release
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Ambitious politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is about to hold a Senate Subcommittee hearing in San Francisco on organized crime in the United States. To improve his political standing in favor of holding for a Senate, Chalmers hopes to interrogate key state's witness Johnny Ross (Pat Renella), who has represented himself as a Chicago defector from the "organization". Chalmers hopes to introduce his "surprise" witness, whom he will question in the subcommittee's public hearings. At Chalmers's request, Ross is put under protective custody in Friday evening, supposed to be kept in for 3 days until Monday morning, when he is supposed to testify at court.
Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen), Sgt Delgetti (Don Gordon) and Det. Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel), are assigned to give Ross around-the-clock protection at the Hotel Daniels, a cheap flophouse near the Embarcadero Freeway. Late Saturday night, Ross inexplicably unchains the hotel room door. Before his young police protector Stanton can react, a pair of hitmen(Paul Genge and Bill Hickman) burst into the room and shoot Stanton and Ross, seriously wounding both. Bullitt wants to investigate the shooting in the hotel, while Chalmers attempts to place blame for injury to his witness on Bullitt and the San Francisco P.D to avoid a media scandal. Soon enough, Bullitt thwarts a second assassination attempt on the hospitalized Ross, although he shortly dies of his wounds from the initial hotel-room shotgunning. Bullitt suppresses this news of his death, sneaking the man's body out of the hospital and sending it to the morgue as a John Doe, hoping to draw out the assassins.
Beginning the investigation anew, Bullitt goes to a confidential informant to get the “lowdown” on just who this Ross was and why a high priority mob hit had been ordered on him. Bullitt is also made suspicious by the fact that Ross had unchained the door to the hotel room just prior to the shooting. Ross had been apparently expecting someone whom he wanted to assist in entering his hotel room, but to Ross’ surprise the intruders were a professional contract murder team. Bullitt learns the real reason for the hit on Ross from his North Beach informant. It turns out that the Organization has been looking for and trying to assassinate Johnny Ross for several days. They had first tried to kill him while he was still in Chicago. When that attempt failed, Ross fled unharmed to San Francisco. The West Coast mob is reportedly assisting with the Chicago Outfit in looking all over the city for Ross, and has all the transport outlets covered.
It is progressively revealed that the 'Ross' character is not who he has represented himself to be to Chalmers. Johnny Ross is not the low level mob technician who has come to Chalmers to testify. Ross is actually a high-ranked informant who stole two million dollars from the Outfit, and has came to San Francisco to seek help from Chalmers, but in reality, the deal is a flop; he is planning to escape from both the mob and the police.
As Bullitt reconstructs Ross's movements, he finds the cab driver Weissberg (Robert Duvall) who originally brought Ross to the Hotel Daniels. Bullitt is told by the cabbie that Ross had made both local and long distance calls from a pay phone before he was taken to the hotel. Long distance toll records from the pay phone revealed that 'Ross' had placed an inter-city toll call to a hotel room south of San Francisco. Bullitt picks up his 1968 Ford Mustang GT and sees he is being tailed by the same hitmen who killed Ross in their black 1968 Dodge Charger 500. He turns the tables and follows them, resulting in a protracted, visually dramatic car chase through the hills and streets of San Francisco. The chase ends when Bullitt forces their speeding car off the road and into a gas station, causing a fiery explosion which kills the hitmen. Back at the police station Bullitt is given until Monday morning to follow his remaining lead.
Bullitt heads to the hotel to which Ross had telephoned, where he finds the woman Ross had called still registered under the name Mrs. Dorothy Simmons, who has been graphically murdered. The dead woman, or someone, had had her luggage sent to the airport. After being examined by Bullitt and Delgetti, the contents of the dead woman’s luggage begin the unraveling of the mystery. They find a pair of empty passport and airline ticket folders in each luggage set, plus brochures from a Chicago travel agency advertising a Rome vacation. The luggage clothing contents are also strange as well, they appear to be staged. All of the items are brand new, and have never been used or worn, with the price tags still attached or still inside of them. The man’s shirts are personally monogrammed, A–R, which of course does not match the name Simmons. However, inside the pockets of each of the sets of clothing are found several thousands of dollars of travelers’ checks, in multiple folders. The checks have been separately issued to and properly endorsed by, a Mr Albert Renick and a Mrs. Dorothy Renick. Bullitt tells Delgetti to contact Immigration Service in Chicago and obtain the photos and applications that their passports were issued under.
Bullitt comes to reason the events of the weekend into a coherent whole. Johnny Ross is an embezzler and had set in motion a scheme to get away with his thefts from the mob. From the beginning Ross knew that the mob, not the police, were his most important problem. He needed a way to have the mob stop looking for him, if he were to have any hope of actually getting away with his $2 million thefts. So Ross had recruited and paid the Renicks to have Albert Renick impersonate Johnny Ross as a man on-the-run in San Francisco, seeking protective custody in a Senate hearing, and turning state's evidence under police protection. Renick (as Ross), took the chain off the door of the hotel room to help his "kidnappers" (as he thought the plan was) make him disappear from police custody. The airline tickets and the traveler's checks in both Mr. and Mrs. Renick's names wrongly convinced them that they were to have a vacation in Rome.
Chalmers arrives at the morgue, demanding from Bullitt a signed admission that Ross died while in his custody. Bullitt demurs, and when the faxed copy of the Renicks' passport application photographs arrives, Chalmers is shown to have sent the police to protect the wrong man. Ross, and his older brother, had set Albert Renick up in order to be killed as "Johnny Ross" so the real Ross could escape both the mob and the police under a false name. Johnny then killed Dorothy Renick to silence her.
At the San Francisco airport a surveillance of passengers boarding the flight to Rome does not discover anyone resembling Ross/Renick. Bullitt guesses that Ross switched his ticket to an earlier international flight heading for London. He rapidly discovers that Ross has boarded and the London flight is taxiing toward takeoff. Chalmers makes one last attempt to use Ross for his own ends, which Bullitt moralistically rejects before pursuing Ross. A chase across the busy runways of San Francisco Airport ensues. Bullitt chases Ross back inside the crowded passenger terminal to a tense cat-and-mouse pursuit among the innocent throng. When Ross bolts and shoots a security guard, Bullitt shoots and kills him.
- Cast notes
- McQueen based the character of Frank Bullitt on San Francisco Inspector Dave Toschi, with whom he worked prior to filming. McQueen even copied Toschi's unique "fast draw" shoulder holster. Toschi later became famous, along with Inspector Bill Armstrong, as the lead San Francisco investigators of the Zodiac Killer murders that began shortly after the release of Bullitt. Toschi is played by Mark Ruffalo in the film Zodiac, in which Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) mentions that "McQueen got the idea for the holster from Toschi".
At the time of the film's release, the car chase scene generated a great amount of excitement. Leonard Maltin has called it a "now-classic car chase, one of the screen's all-time best." Emanuel Levy wrote in 2003 that, "Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood's standards." In his obituary for Peter Yates, Bruce Weber wrote "Mr. Yates’ reputation probably rests most securely on “Bullitt” (1968), his first American film – and indeed, on one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic." The editing of this scene likely won editor Frank P. Keller the Academy Award for Best Editing.
The total time of the scene is 10 minutes and 53 seconds, beginning in the Fisherman's Wharf area at Columbus and Chestnut, followed by Midtown shooting on Hyde and Laguna Streets, with shots of Coit Tower and locations around and on Filbert and University Streets. The scene ends outside the city at the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in Brisbane.
Two 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT fastbacks (325 hp) with four-speed manual transmissions were used for the chase scene, both loaned by the Ford Motor Company to Warner Bros. as part of a promotional agreement. The Mustangs' engines, brakes and suspensions were heavily modified for the chase by veteran car racer Max Balchowsky. Ford also originally loaned two Galaxie sedans for the chase scenes, but the producers found the cars too heavy for the jumps over the hills of San Francisco. They were replaced with two 1968 375 hp 440 Magnum V8-powered Dodge Chargers. The engines in both Chargers were left largely unmodified, but the suspensions were mildly upgraded to cope with the demands of the stunt work.
The director called for maximum speeds of about 75–80 miles per hour (121–130 km/h), but the cars (including the chase cars filming) at times reached speeds of over 110 miles per hour (180 km/h). Driver's point-of-view shots were used to give the audience a participant's feel of the chase. Filming took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of pursuit, first of Bullitt by the hitmen then the reverse. Because of multiple takes spliced into a single end product, heavy damage on the passenger side of Bullitt's car can be seen much earlier than the incident producing it and the Charger loses five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots. Shooting from multiple angles simultaneously and creating a montage from the footage to give the illusion of different streets also resulted in the speeding cars passing the same cars at several different times. At one point the Charger crashes into the camera in one scene and the damaged front fender is noticeable in later scenes. Local authorities did not allow the car chase to be filmed on the Golden Gate Bridge, but did permit it in Midtown locations including the Mission District, and on the outskirts of neighboring Brisbane.
McQueen, an accomplished driver, drove in the close-up scenes, while stunt coordinator Carey Loftin hired stuntman and motorcycle racer Bud Ekins and McQueen's usual stunt driver Loren Janes for the high-speed part of the chase and other dangerous stunts. Ekins, who doubled for McQueen in the The Great Escape sequence where McQueen's character jumps over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle, also lays one down in front of a skidding truck during the Bullitt chase. The Mustang’s interior rear view mirror goes up and down depending on who is driving; when the mirror is up McQueen is visible behind the wheel; when it is down Ekins is driving.
The black Dodge Charger was driven by veteran stunt driver Bill Hickman, who both played one of the hitmen and helped with the chase scene choreography. The other hitman was played by Paul Genge, who had ridden a Dodge off the road to his death in an episode of Perry Mason – "The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise" two years earlier. In a magazine article many years later, one of drivers involved in the chase sequence remarked that the stock Dodge 440s were so much faster than the Mustang that the drivers had to keep backing off the accelerator to prevent the Dodge from easily pulling away from the Mustang.
One of the two Mustangs was scrapped after filming because of damage and liability concerns, while the other was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers. The car changed hands several times, with McQueen at one point making an unsuccessful attempt to buy it in late 1977. The current state and location of the surviving Mustang is largely unknown, but it is rumored many times that the Mustang is kept in a barn in Ohio River Valley by an unknown owner.
The editing of the car chase by Frank P. Keller likely won Keller the editing Oscar for 1968, and has been included in lists of the "Best Editing Sequences of All-Time". Paul Monaco has written, "The most compelling street footage of 1968, however, appeared in an entirely contrived sequence, with nary a hint of documentary feel about it – the car chase through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, created from footage shot over nearly five weeks. Billy Fraker, the cinematographer for the film, attributed the success of the chase sequence primarily to the work of the editor, Frank P. Keller. At the time, Keller was credited with cutting the piece in such a superb manner that he made the city of San Francisco a "character" in the film." The editing of the scene was not without difficulties; Ralph Rosenblum wrote in 1979 that "those who care about such things may know that during the filming of the climactic chase scene in Bullitt, an out-of-control car filled with dummies tripped a wire which prematurely sent a costly set up in flames, and that editor Frank Keller salvaged the near-catastrophe with a clever and unusual juxtaposition of images that made the explosion appear to go off on time." This chase scene has also been cited by critics as groundbreaking in its realism and originality. In the release print and the print shown for many years, a scene in which the Charger actually hits the camera causing a red flare on screen, which many feel added to the realism, was edited out on DVD prints to the disappointment of many fans.Bullitt (soundtrack)
The film has garnered both critical acclaim and box office success. Produced on a $5.5 million budget, it grossed over $42.3 million in the United States, making it the 5th highest grossing film of 1968.
Bullitt was well received by critics and is considered by some as one of the best films of 1968. Renata Adler made the film a NYT Critics Pick, saying its a "terrific movie, just right for Steve McQueen –fast, well acted, written the way people talk"; accord to Adler, "the ending should satisfy fans from Dragnet to Camus."
In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. In 2011, Time magazine listed it among the "The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases of All Time", describing it as "the one, the first, the granddaddy, the chase on the top of almost every list", and saying "Bullitt‘s car chase is a reminder that every great such scene is a triumph of editing as much as it is stunt work. Naturally, it won that year's Academy Award for Best Editing". Among 21st century critics, it holds a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, representing positive reviews from 32 of 33 critics as of October 2011.
The film was nominated and won several critical awards. Frank P. Keller won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. The film was also nominated for Best Sound. Bullitt was also nominated for several BAFTA Film Awards, including Best Director for Peter Yates, Best Supporting Actor for Robert Vaughn, Best Cinematography for William A. Fraker, Best Film Editing for Frank P. Keller, and Best Sound Track. Keller also won the American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film. The film was awarded the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography (William A. Fraker) and the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing – Feature Film. The film was also successful at the 1970 Laurel Awards. It won 2nd place Golden Laurel awards for Best Action Drama, Best Action Performance (Steve McQueen) and Best Female New Face (Jacqueline Bisset). In 2000, the Society of Camera Operators awarded Bullitt its "Historical Shot" award to David M. Walsh. Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner won that year's Edgar Award for Best Mystery Screenplay.
The Ford Mustang name has been closely associated with the film. In 2001, the Ford Motor Company released the Bullitt edition Ford Mustang GT. Another version of the Ford Mustang Bullitt, which is closer to resembling the original film Mustang, was released in 2008.
Steve McQueen's likeness as Frank Bullitt was used in two Ford commercials. The first was for the Europe-only 2001 Ford Puma, which featured a special effects montage of McQueen (who died in 1980) driving a new Puma around San Francisco before parking it in a studio apartment garage beside the film Mustang and the motorcycle from The Great Escape. In a 2004 commercial for the 2005 Mustang, special effects are again used to give the illusion McQueen drives the new Mustang after a man receives a Field of Dreams-style epiphany and constructs a racetrack in the middle of a cornfield. The famous chase scene was also recreated and implemented into the 2011 video game Driver: San Francisco.
During the only season of the 2012 TV series Alcatraz Det. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) drove a green 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang fastback like Bullitt's. In the series finale she found herself in a 2013 Ford Mustang GT, the modern equivalent of the 1968 fastback, giving chase to a black LX Dodge Charger driven by series antagonist Thomas "Tommy" Madsen (David Hoflin). The sequence played homage to portions of Bullitt's, including Madsen buckling the seatbelt in his Charger before starting and two passes by a green Volkswagen Beetle.