Cast & Crew
Chicago hoodlum Johnny Ross defrauds his Mafia associates and escapes to San Francisco where he agrees to testify before a Senate subcommittee on crime headed by ambitious politician Walter Chalmers. At the request of Chalmers, Det. Lieut. Frank Bullitt is assigned to protect Ross who is hiding out in a dilapidated hotel; two gunmen manage to enter Ross's room, however, and seriously wound him. Chalmers then warns Bullitt that he will destroy his career if Ross dies. When Ross is stabbed to death in the hospital, Bullitt persuades a member of the hospital staff, Dr. Willard, to help conceal the death, and he sets out to investigate the case. The Mafia gangsters follow him, but Bullitt escapes in an automobile chase through San Francisco that ends when the Mafia car crashes into a gasoline pump and explodes. Despite the objections of his girl friend Cathy, Bullitt retraces Ross's movements and eventually learns that the dead man was a decoy, and that the real Ross plans to leave the country under the name of Albert Renick. Tracing a phone call Ross had made to a San Mateo motel, Bullitt drives there with Cathy and finds a murdered woman with $30,000 in traveler's checks made out to Albert and Dorothy Renick. Bullitt then learns that Ross has booked a seat on a night plane to London. He races to stop him at the airport, but runs into Chalmers, who admits that he sent him to guard the wrong man and demands that the real Ross be taken alive. After an angry exchange with Chalmers, Bullitt goes after Ross, chases him from a departing plane onto the runway, and finally kills him as he tries to escape.
Georg Stanford Brown
Joe L. Cramer
Pablo Ferro Films
William A. Fraker
Ralph S. Hurst
Frank P. Keller
Ralph H. Martin
Jack N. Reddish
Robert E. Relyea
Alan R. Trustman
Theadora Van Runkle
But Bullitt is worth repeated viewings for more than just its most famous sequence. A precursor to the explosive action movies of the eighties and nineties, the film brought a modern, technically advanced style to the tough detective movies of a generation before. And Steve McQueen's portrayal of the taciturn, mistrusting police lieutenant is considered one of his best and certainly most iconic.
Frank Bullitt is not your conventional cop, even for so unconventional a city as San Francisco. He dresses sharp and trendy (in costumes that designer Theadora Van Runkle based on the clothes of a handsome, dapper boyfriend she had at the time), drives a souped-up Mustang, and has a chic girlfriend (the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset) whose major interest is modern art. He also has atypical working methods; when a mob witness he is assigned to protect is murdered, Bullitt gets a sympathetic doctor to agree to keep quiet temporarily about the death while he solves the murder, and exposes double-dealings and cover-ups in the process. While the narrative is both intricate and exciting, it actually holds less interest than the film's style, action sequences, and its presentation of McQueen as a different kind of hero for a new age. It was his own favorite film and the one for which he is best remembered, the movie that shot him into superstar status.
By the late 60s, McQueen had become big box office on the heels of his success in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Sand Pebbles (1966). In just a decade, he had risen from TV star (Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1958) to an internationally famous actor with enough clout to form his own production company. Producer Philip D'Antoni had optioned Robert Pike's book Mute Witness for Spencer Tracy, hoping to cast the aged actor in the central role of the luckless New York cop Clancy. When the project at last came to McQueen's attention, Warner Brothers saw the box office potential in it, and a rewrite was ordered to change the lead's name, age and location. That location became the first sticking point between McQueen and Warners, who wanted it shot on the back lot. The star suggested the studio "shove" the picture unless it was done his way. His way, it was. Bullitt became the first film shot entirely on location with an all-Hollywood crew and the first to use the new lightweight Arriflex cameras exclusively.
McQueen also gave the front office headaches by insisting on doing all his own stunts (a skill and bravado immortalized by playwright David Mamet in his 1985 short piece "Steve McQueen"). Yates insists the actor did his own driving (at speeds up to 110 mph) for the chase sequence; other sources say McQueen was furious to awake one morning and find most of the driving had already been shot. Whatever the facts, the film has become part of the legend of the tough, tortured star who enjoyed his success but wanted to be known as a versatile actor, too. Several years later, at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bullitt, McQueen made himself almost unrecognizable behind a beard and heavy clothing to play Dr. Stockmann in his film adaptation of Ibsens's drama An Enemy of the People (1977). The picture was shelved, however, and remained unreleased by the time McQueen died in a Juarez, Mexico clinic, searching for a miracle cure to the cancer that killed him at the age of fifty.
Director: Peter Yates
Producer: Philip D'Antoni
Screenplay: Alan R. Trustman, Harry Kleiner (based on the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike)
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Editing: Frank P. Keller
Art Direction: Albert Brenner
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Steve McQueen (Frank Bullitt), Robert Vaughn (Sen. Walter Chalmers), Jacqueline Bisset (Cathy), Don Gordon (Det. Sgt. Delgetti), Robert Duvall (Cab Driver), Simon Oakland (Sam Bennett), Norman Fell (Cpt. Baker), Georg Stanford Brown (Dr. Willard).
C-114m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon
Look, you work your side of the street, and I'll work mine.- Bullitt
Come on, now. Don't be naive, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public.- Walter Chalmers
Frank, we must all compromise.- Walter Chalmers
You can sell whatever you want but you can't sell it here tonight.- Bullitt
He let the killers in himself? Why would he do a thing like that?- Captain Bennett
I'm waiting to ask him.- Frank Bullitt
What about the setup? What do you make of that?- Captain Bennett
Shotgun and a backup man, professionals.- Frank Bullitt
Two Mustangs and two Dodge Chargers were used for the famous chase scene. Both Mustangs were owned by the Ford Motor Company and part of a promotional loan agreement with Warner Brothers. The cars were modified for the high-speed chase by veteran auto racer Max Balchowsky. Stunt coordinator Carey Loftin got Bud Ekins to drive the Mustang for the bulk of the stunts. Both of the Dodges were junked after the filming, as was one of the Mustangs. The other less banged-up Mustang was purchased by a WB employee after all production and post-production was completed. The car ended up in New Jersey a few years later, where Steve McQueen attempted to buy it. The owner refused to sell, and the car now sits in a barn and has not been driven in many years.
The director called for speeds of about 75-80 mph, but the cars (including the ones containing the cameras) reached speeds of over 110 mph. Filming of the chase scene took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of footage. They were denied permission to film on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Mustang's interior mirror goes up and down depending who is driving it - Steve McQueen (up, visible) or Bud Ekins (down, not visible).
This film is edited entirely by cuts except in two instances. The first occurs when the jazz club scene dissolves to a shot of Steve McQueen lying in bed. The second occurs after the Dodge crashes into the gas station and burns, when the shot of the two dead villains dissolves to a scene at the police station.
This was the first mainstream Hollywood film to use the expletive "Bullshit!" in its script.
Location scenes filmed in San Francisco.
Based on the novel "Mute Witness" written by Robert L. Fish and published under the pseudonym Robert L. Pike by Doubleday & Co. in 1963.
Released in United States Fall October 17, 1968
1968 Best Cinematography Award by the National Society of Film Critics.
Released in United States Fall October 17, 1968