Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cut to the Chase

Because I’ve been writing feverishly lately on a non-fiction book about San Francisco history, and because the 1968 Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt was shot on location in that beautiful city, I decided it was incumbent upon me to watch the film again. Solely for the purposes of research, of course.

It had been a few years--quite a few, maybe 10--since I last screened Bullitt, but the picture has lost none of its hard-boiled allure. Based on the 1963 novel Mute Witness, by Edgar Award winner Robert L. Fish, it finds McQueen playing a world-weary but tough police lieutenant named Frank Bullitt, who’s asked by an ambitious U.S. senator (Robert Vaughn in another fine role) to protect a key witness in an organized-crime trial. Naturally, things go seriously awry, the witness is murdered, and an angry Bullitt goes after the folks who did in his charge.

In Fish’s original novel, which I’ve never had the chance to read, Bullitt was known as Lieutenant Clancy, and there was no car-chase sequence. However, that nine minute, 42 second high-speed pursuit is one of the most memorable parts of Bullitt, and certainly one of the best car chases in film history. No matter that it has “some strange inconsistencies,” as the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out a few years back. (“The bad guys’ Charger lost six hubcaps and couldn’t hit the broad side of a gas station during the explosive finale. The chase route looks as if it were designed by Siegfried and Roy, with cars disappearing and reappearing at random points in the city.”). Every time I see the determined look on McQueen’s face, as he begins chasing up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, the tires of his 1968 GT V8 Ford Mustang smoking as he closes on the black Dodge Charger containing his quarry, I know that I’m in for one hell of a wild ride. And glad to go.

Buckle your seat belts and take that ride for yourself in this adrenaline-pumping clip from Bullitt.

READ MORE:Bullitt: Sounds of the ’60s,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); “Bullitt Locations in San Francisco: April 1968, July 2002,” by Ray Smith.


Dana King said...

I re-watched The French Connection a few months ago. Newer car chases may be flasier and better edited, but those in Bullitt and The French Connection are still the most viscerally satisfying.

Corey Wilde said...

One of the reasons I love the chase in Bullitt is because of the cat & mouse lead-in to the actual speed chase.

Unknown said...

Every time I'm in a car in San Francisco, I think of that scene.