Bullitt (1968)

Fifty-three years ago today, the film Bullitt premiered. I think everyone loves Steve McQueen, and what’s not to love? This movie is classic McQueen. You will love it.

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Directed by: Peter Yates
Produced by: Philip D’Antoni
Screenplay by: Alan R. Trustman, Harry Kleiner
Based on: Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish
Starring: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, Simon Oakland
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Edited by: Frank P. Keller
Production company: Solar Productions, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Distributed by: Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release date: October 17, 1968
Running time: 113 minutes
Budget: $4 million
Box office: $42.3 million

Senator Walter Chalmers is set to present witness Johnny Ross at a Senate subcommittee hearing on organized crime. SFPD detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt and his team, Delgetti and Stanton, take shifts providing Ross with protective custody over the weekend, in a cheap hotel selected by Chalmers. The desk clerk calls to say that Chalmers and a friend want to come up. While Stanton phones Bullitt to check, Ross secretly unchains the door. Two hitmen burst in and shoot Stanton and Ross.

Ross is taken, alive, to hospital, where Chalmers holds Bullitt responsible. Bullitt thwarts a second assassination attempt but Ross dies of his original wounds. Bullitt removes the body and keeps the death secret. He discovers that Ross stole a substantial sum from the Chicago Organization, and that he made a phone call before seeking Chalmers’ protection. Chalmers pressures the police chief to have Bullitt produce the witness.

While driving his Ford Mustang, Bullitt becomes aware that two men are following him in a Dodge Charger. He loses the tail and reappears behind them. Realizing they are being followed, the hitmen attempt to flee, but Bullitt gives chase. A pursuit ensues through the streets of San Francisco and onto the highway, where one of the hitmen begins shooting at Bullitt. Bullitt manages to force the Charger off the road, where it collides with fuel storage tanks at a gas station, causing an explosion that incinerates the hitmen.

Bullitt and Delgetti face Chalmers and their SFPD superiors on Sunday morning, where tempers flare. They reluctantly reveal that Ross had died of his wounds and that their only lead is that Ross telephoned a Dorothy Simmons in a hotel in San Mateo. With his Mustang damaged from the chase, Bullitt gets a ride to San Mateo from his girlfriend Cathy in her Porsche cabriolet. At the hotel, Bullitt finds Simmons dead, her throat garrotted. A man is seen exiting the hotel — a man who looks curiously like the deceased Ross.

From the hotel parking lot, Cathy sees the police arriving. She follows them into the hotel and is horrified by the crime scene. Driving back to San Francisco she confronts Bullitt (“Frank, you live in a sewer”) and wonders if she can or should stay with him and cope with the dangerous and violent life he leads as a police detective.

In Simmons’ luggage Bullitt and Delgetti discover a travel brochure for Rome and traveler’s checks made out to Albert and Dorothy Renick. Bullitt requests detailed confirmation of identities and discovers that the now-deceased man they believed to be gangster Johnny Ross was actually Albert Renick, a used car salesman from Chicago with a startling facial resemblance to Ross. The garrotted Dorothy Simmons is, in reality, Dorothy Renick.

Bullitt points out to Chalmers that he has been played as Ross’ patsy, duped into focusing the organization’s murderous attention onto the decoy Renicks while Ross prepares his escape to Europe by jet.

Delgetti and Bullitt stake out the Rome flight gate at San Francisco International Airport only to find that the real Ross has switched flights and is already taxiing. Bullitt contacts the tower and has the plane stopped, but Ross jumps from the rear cabin door. Bullitt gives chase across the dark runways and between moving jet aircraft, and then into the crowded passenger terminal. As Bullitt finds Ross in the crowded terminal, Ross shoots a deputy sheriff dead who tries to block him. Bullitt shoots Ross dead.

Early in the morning, Bullitt arrives home to find Cathy asleep in his bed, having chosen to stay in the relationship.

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