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Often talked about for “the chase”, Bullitt is much more than a car case movie. The movie follows detective, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (played by Steve McQueen) through the investigation behind a murder of a star witness in a mob case.
Before I talk about the movie itself, I think the intro credits deserve some attention – after all I am a design geek. The intro credits equate to a minimalists take on the intro credits to a James Bond film. Through the use of layered scenes and typography, the intro credits are able to build the back story leading to the beginning of the movie without having to have any dialog.
As for the movie, the viewer is brought into a situation where politician Walter Chalmers (played by Robert Vaughn – I most fondly recall as General Hunt Stockwell from the A-Team series), who is in town to hold a US Senate subcommittee hearing on organized crime. His start witness Johnny Ross must be kept a live at all costs before the hearing the coming Monday. Of course with all movies, you immediately know that Ross is a dead man. A few scenes into it, that assumption comes true and so sets up the next 90 minutes of action.
Through a series of leads and subsequent altercations, Bullitt is lead to realize something about the dead Mr. Ross. At the same time Bullitt is having some problems with his [far too attractive] architect girlfriend (played by then new-comer Jacqueline Bisset) due to the line of work he is in. This dual plot line has since been copied by nearly every detective movie since and has become THE plot devise to allow a bad-ass cop to still have a human side in a movie (thereby endearing the character to the audiences forever).
The script is lacking in tons of dialog, the scenes are deliberately slow to develop, and still this movie is great. Unlike today’s action movies, Bullitt builds suspense through plot and good acting. Sure a lot of people talk about the famous car chase, but that scene (while well shot) was not needed for the movie to work. In fact, compared to the rest of the movie, the car chase is one of the only parts that feels forced. Taking place over just a few days, the movie offers a look into the world of a detective that is often overly glamorized in today’s movies and television. Along the way you also get a glimpse at just how good Steve McQueen was and how sad it is to think that he was selected to be Rambo but passed away prior to the start of shooting.
Equally enjoyable period movies with similar styling include: