By Pete Croatto
For all of the talk about its legendary car chase through the streets of San Francisco -- and it is justified -- Bullitt idles far tool long in the slow lane when it should be blowing by the minivans and the carpoolers. Even the presence of Steve McQueen, with his laid-back, self-assured cool, can't save it.
McQueen plays Frank Bullitt, a celebrated lieutenant with the San Francisco Police Department, assigned to protect a celebrity witness in a Senate subcommittee meeting on organized crime. When the witness is killed in his hotel room, Bullitt has little time to discover the truth before the city's powerful DA (Robert Vaughn) unleashes his wrath.
The movie's exciting and twisty plot is derailed by director Peter Yates and writers Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner, who pad the movie with mundane details, like Bullitt buying groceries or going on a dinner date, when it should be in investigative high gear. And though Bullitt is the perfect character for McQueen, every other character drags him down. Vaughn plays the same uppity villain he made a career of and the police employees (which include Norman Fell) are uniformly nondescript. There's no colorful, angry, authoritarian dynamic to bring out the best in the cool McQueen.
The worst treatment falls to Jacqueline Bissett (at her loveliest here) who gets shoehorned into the proceedings as Bullitt's love interest and sinks the movie. Yates and his writers clearly have no idea what to do with her, save for dressing her in men's shirts and getting her flawless face in close-ups. She barely speaks and in her big scene, her outburst on Bullitt's reaction to the daily death he faces, seems lifted from another movie. It's a jarring, almost surreal scene. She spends half the time lounging around in his bachelor apartment saying nothing. Why would she possibly have anything to say now? Who knew she could even speak?
Bullitt feels like it's always half-asleep, from Yates's refusal to pare scenes down (amazingly, the movie won the Academy Award for Best Editing) to the lack of an excitable counterpart for McQueen. The car chase is great, sure, but in an age where crime dramas have gotten grittier, better paced, and directed with more flourish (Out of Sight, Seven, and to a certain extent, Heat), Bullitt is very much the obsolete artifact.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 17th October 1968
Box Office Worldwide: $42.3M
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Production compaines: Solar Productions, Warner Brothers/Seven Arts
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 33 Rotten: 1
Cast & Crew
Producer: Philip D'Antoni
Starring: Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullit, Jacqueline Bisset as Cathy, Robert Vaughn as Walter Chalmers, Don Gordon as Delgetti, Robert Duvall as Weissberg, Simon Oakland as Captain Sam Bennett, Norman Fell as Captain Baker, Georg Stanford Brown as Dr. Willard, Justin Tarr as Eddy, Carl Reindel as Detective Stanton, Felice Orlandi as Albert E. Renick, Vic Tayback as Pete Ross