Monday, March 04, 2019
Based on the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Fish, Bullitt is the story of a police lieutenant who is hired to protect a mob boss’ brother from testifying as they’re being chased by the mob. Directed by Peter Yates and screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner, the film is an action thriller that involves car chases and thrills where a police official tries to protect a man for a politician as it play into the world of corruption and crime. Starring Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, and Simon Oakland. Bullitt is a gripping yet engaging film from Peter Yates.
The film revolves around the brother of a mob boss who has arrived in San Francisco to testify for a politician as a police lieutenant is hired to protect the witness from the mob. It’s a film with a simple premise yet screenwriters Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner is more concerned with the stakes of what this politician wants and how a police lieutenant is caught in the middle of this conflict. Notably as the politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) wants to go to the Senate for a hearing about his views on organized crime with a key figure to help him as Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is given the job to protect John Ross (Felice Orlandi). Yet, Bullitt is concerned about what is needed to protect Ross as he feels putting him in a hotel room with another cop isn’t enough when a young cop in Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel) is wounded during an ambush by two hitmen that would also wound Ross.
The script would play into Bullitt trying to understand what is going on as he deals with Chalmers who tries to make Bullitt’s job harder as well as get police officials to be on his side through bribes and promises. Even as Bullitt decides to hide Ross from Chalmers believing something isn’t right as he’s aided by Delgetti (Don Gordon) and a sympathetic doctor in Dr. Willard (Georg Stanford Brown) whom Chalmers dismisses as it adds intrigue into the tension between Bullitt and Chalmers. Even as the former becomes targeted by these mob figures and more intrigue emerges that even his girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) would discover the severity of what Bullitt is dealing with that would become a turning point into his investigation.
Peter Yates’ direction is stylish from the way he opens the film from its heist as well as opening credits sequence to its usage of superimposed images and cuts. Shot on location in San Francisco as well as nearby locations as the setting would be a major character in the film. Yates would maintain a low-key approach to the direction where it play into the suspense and building up the intrigue of what is at stake rather than go on board with the action. Notably in the usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into some of the drama that occur as well as Bullitt’s own investigation and life outside of the police with Cathy. Still, Yates would use these compositions to play into the ambush as there is a sense that something will happen yet it is its impact that would be important. Even in a scene in the hospital where a hitman is set to strike leading to a chase of sorts with Bullitt trying to find this man through the hospital corridors and such.
That small chase scene would be a taster for this intense and intricate chase scene involving Bullitt’s car and the car of the hitmen throughout the city of San Francisco. The usage of wide, medium shots, and close-ups along with its approach to realism is among one of the most astonishing sequences captured on film where Yates gets a point-of-view of the driver in his car as well as the geography of a certain location and where the car is supposed to turn. It plays into the stakes of the film as its third act is about what Ross did and what is really going on along with why Chalmers needs him so bad only to realize that it’s become a far more complicated situation leading to an intense climax. Overall, Yates crafts a riveting and intoxicating film about a police lieutenant’s attempt to protect a witness for a major Senate hearing.
Cinematographer William A. Fraker does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the daytime exterior scenes along with its usage of low-key lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes set at night. Editor Frank P. Keller does incredible work with the editing with its usage of rhythmic cuts as well as the film’s car chase sequence as there’s a language and rhythm that add to the suspense as it’s a major highlight of the film. Art director Albert Brenner, with set decorators Phil Abramson and Ralph S. Hurt, does fantastic work with the look of the hotel room that Ross was staying in as well as the apartment that Bullitt lives in.
Costume designer Theadora Van Runkle does nice work with the costumes as it does have some style from the turtleneck sweater that Bullitt wears to the stylish dresses of Cathy. The sound work of John K. Kean is superb for the way different cars and tires are heard during the car chase as well as the sounds of sirens and gunfire. The film’s music by Lalo Schifrin is amazing for its jazz-based score that play into suspense and action as well as maintaining an energetic atmosphere throughout the film as it is another big highlight of the film.
The casting by Ann Brebner is terrific as it feature some notable small roles from Norman Fell as a police captain working closely with Chalmers, Justin Tarr as an informant for Bullitt, Victor Tayback as Ross’ brother Pete who is the target of the investigation, Georg Stanford Brown as Dr. Willard who understands the severity of Ross’ wound, Carl Reindel as a police detective in Carl Stanton who gets wounded by the ambush, Paul Genge and Bill Hickman as the two hitmen, Pat Renella as a mysterious mob figure, and Robert Duvall in a small role as a cab driver who takes Bullitt to the locations he drove Ross around. Felice Orlandi is superb as Johnny Ross as the brother of a mob boss who has agreed to testify to the Senate to help out Chalmers’ and his need to get rid of crime. Jacqueline Bisset is wonderful as Bullitt’s girlfriend Cathy as a woman who doesn’t know much about what her boyfriend does until she gives him a ride where she gets a close look into what he’s dealing with.
Simon Oakland is excellent as Bullitt’s superior Captain Sam Bennett who is giving Bullitt a lot to work with but is also tempted by what Chalmers is offering. Don Gordon is fantastic as Delgetti as a detective helping out Bullitt as he knows something is off as he also has a dislike towards Chalmers. Robert Vaughn is amazing as Walter Chalmers as a politician who is eager to become a senator in order to rid the world of crime yet he has his own ideas of handling things as well as offer those benefits if they’re loyal to him. Finally, there’s Steve McQueen in a phenomenal performance as Lieutenant Frank Bullitt as a police detective who is tasked to protect a witness for an upcoming Senate hearing as he is aware something off as it’s McQueen being cool and low-key in his no-nonsense performance while being someone who cares about the job and is aware of what is at stake.
Bullitt is a spectacular film from Peter Yates that features an iconic performance from Steve McQueen. Along with Lalo Schfrin’s playful score, top-notch editing, superb ensemble cast, and a riveting premise, the film is definitely an action-suspense film that manages to do a lot in its dramatic and suspenseful moments as well as know when to bring in the thrills. In the end, Bullitt is a tremendous film from Peter Yates.
Peter Yates Films: (Summer Holiday) – (One Way Pendelum) – (Robbery) – (John and Mary) – (Murphy’s War) – (The Hot Rock) – (The Friends of Eddie Coyle) – (For Pete’s Sake) – (Mother, Jugs & Speed) – (The Deep) – Breaking Away - (Eyewitness) – (Krull) – (The Dresser) – (Eleni) – (Suspect) – (The House on Carroll Street) – (An Innocent Man) – (Year of the Comet) – (Roommates) – (The Run of the Country) – (Curtain Call) – (Don Quixote (2000 film))
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