SCRIBE'S "YOU WORK YOUR SIDE OF THE STREET, I'LL WORK MINE" REVIEW:
It may sound strange for someone who is a Steve McQueen fan to say they’d never actually watched Bullitt until this past weekend but I’m saying it and it’s not as weird as what I watched right before it. Think midgets and Jell-O and you still haven’t come close!
Bullitt was McQueen’s iconic foray into cop films and it turned out to be a hugely successful move on his part. In fact, it’s safe to say this film is the reason we have the now all-too familiar young-ish, loner cop on a crusade to do the right thing in defiance of his superiors.
It’s odd that, on the extras DVD, co-star Robert Vaughn stated how he was initially uninterested in the project because the story didn’t make any sense. He jokingly added that it started making more sense the more money he was offered but said it still doesn’t make sense even now.
What doesn’t make sense, exactly? It’s pretty cut and dried and well-executed. The plot basically revolves around DA Walter Chalmers (Vaughn) recruiting Detective Bullitt (McQueen) to protect a witness so he can present him in court the following Monday and take down a vicious mobster (Vic Tayback). Naturally, things go awry as the supposed witness leaves his hotel room door unlocked for an assassination team to come in and kill his police protector and him.
Why would a man unlock the door to his own killers? That’s the driving mystery behind the film as Bullitt defies Chalmers’ attempts to take over his case and goes on a one-cop manhunt to find the killers and connect the dots before Monday morning.
McQueen is cool as ever in his signature role and his understated acting style commands the viewer’s attention even while great actors like Vaughn are emoting all over the place. McQueen was known for demanding a reduction in dialogue because he preferred to react to his fellow actors. What resulted was a study in minimalism in contrast to larger events, something few actors would risk these days.
It’s important to watch Bullitt in the context of the times. You’re not going to see a movie with Die Hard level action sequences here but you will see a moody, atmospheric film that attempts to build a real character whose actions result in dangerous moments. The car chase sequence is still thrilling, especially because it starts out slowly and builds, hitting its greatest moment with the rev of McQueen’s engine.
Most interestingly is the commentary on violence the film makes. A few years later, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry would have no problem killing whoever he deemed bad and slept like a baby. He was, in many ways, equally psychotic to the bad guys he chased. Bullitt is not and by the film’s end, you can see just how deeply affected he is by what he had to do. Contrary to this moronic review of the film, that is an important and resonating portion of the story.
Not McQueen’s best but certainly a good film.
****1/2 out of *****
GREEN'S "DAY AFTER DAY, LIVING IN A SEWER" REVIEW:
San Francisco detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) and his men have been assigned to protect a star witness for the prosecution's case against a mafia like outfit called "The Organization" run by Chicago mobster Pete Ross (Vic Tayback) The prosecution is led by district attorney Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn). Watch a guy for about 40 weekend hours, and get him to the courthouse first thing on Monday morning. Sounds like a simple enough assignment, right?
The witness' "secret location" in a hotel room is quickly discovered and compromised by "The Organization" and the witness and his police protector are predictably shot up very badly, and almost killed. Now Bullitt must find out who the killers are and stop them before they can finish the job, while Chalmers is up Bullitt's behind about his apparent lack of competence. Further complicating matters, the witness dies as a result of his injuries. But there are further complications...
I thought it was really cool that this film was shot entirely on location on the streets of San Francisco, and in locations within the city, like in a real hospital and at the airport. I also like the fact that McQueen did not use a stunt driver for the iconic car chase sequence, and was able to handle driving at speeds in excess of 110 MPH. Bullitt's car was a highland green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback, which I mention only because I saw a similar car in a mall parking lot this weekend - sporting an antique license plate. For the automobile enthusiasts out there, the hit-men's car was a jewel black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum (didn't see one of these, unfortunately.)
IMDb calls Bisset's performance (as Bullitt's girlfriend Cathy) in this film her breakthrough role, but I disagree. That is, unless you consider the scene where she walks around in nothing but a pajama shirt a breakthrough performance. That scene, I'm sure, was considered very risque back in 1968. If it were filmed today, I'm also sure we would have seen some nudity and gratuitous lovemaking. Sure, Bisset's performance is good for what screen time she has but that is not much at all. As Bullitt's girlfriend, Cathy provides Bullitt with an anchor and grounding in a non-violent reality unlike his own because she's afraid that she's losing him to the darker side of his job.
One thing I like about films like this is what became of some of the supporting cast, who would have notable film careers of their own, like Robert Duvall, or become popular television stars like Vic Tayback (Mel from "Alice") and Norman Fell (Mr. Roper from "Three's Company") and Georg Stanford Brown (TV miniseries "North and South"), whose career was mostly spent as a television actor.
This was veteran director Peter Yates' (who incidentally died in January 2011) fourth feature film and probably his most well known.
This film sets the precedent for our modern, moral cop vs. bad guy films and provides the car chase by which all future movie car chases are compared and occasionally, if rarely, equaled. The ending of the film was a bit of a letdown for me but I won't tell you what part disappointed me so I won't spoil it for you.
I had never watched this film in its entirety before but do believe I had seen part if not all of, the car chase scene when this movie was shown on television, probably in the 1980's. Unfortunately for me, my library did not have the two disc DVD edition, so my access to the special features was limited. I was pleasantly surprised to watch the 'making of' feature included from 1968 and voiced over by McQueen, at a time when not many such documentary shorts were made. Such features that have now become more commonplace than not on DVD releases.
It's too bad that McQueen died at such a young age (50) from cancer. One can only imagine and wonder what other films he might have starred in if he had lived into his seventies or eighties.
If you're new to McQueen's films, as I am, then this is an excellent place to start. Even if you're a fan, or haven't watched it in awhile this film deserves another look.
****½ out of *****
Bullitt (1968, NR, 114 minutes), starring Steve McQueen, Jaqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Norman Fell, Robert Duvall and Georg Stanford Brown. Based on the novel "Mute Witness" by Robert L. Fish (aka Robert L. Pike). Screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner. Directed by Peter Yates.