A mobster who is going to rat on his fellow mobsters is being baby-sat by San Francisco cops. When things go wrong – we have a movie.
Steve McQueen plays Bullit, a detective with a sense of style worthy of a James Bond. McQueen started acting on TV in the early 50s and by !958 got his own series, “Wanted Dead or Alive.” His first big movie break came in 1960 when he was one of The Magnificent Seven. A couple of years after that, he played another memorable cog in another hit adventure movie, The Great Escape. Then came a series of good off-beat movies that were so-so hits: Soldier in the Rain (opposite Jackie Gleason), Love With A Proper Stranger (with Natalie Wood), Baby the Rain Must Fall (teamed with Lee Remick in a Henry Foote script), The Cincinnati Kid (heading a stellar cast including Karl Malden, Rip Torn, Tuesday Weld, Ann Margaret and E.G. Robinson) and finally a certified Major Motion Picture – The Sand Pebbles, directed by Robert Wise with a $12 million budget and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The next year, 1968, McQueen hit the jackpot with two of his most iconic movies, The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullit.
The very name of the movie, Bullit, conjures up a hard-nosed but sleek purveyor of death. McQueen is just as comfortable in the seat of his Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback as he is in the arms of Jacqueline Bisset, Bullit’s oh-so-hip girlfriend. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense but who cares? Robert Vaughn as a politician-on -he-make provides the rich-but-clueless push-back to McQueen’s street savvy rule-breaking-but-effective cop.
Of course, the highlight of the movie is the car chase (sorry Jacqueline). It’s not only McQueen vs. the bad guys, it’s Mustang vs. Charger, Ford vs Dodge, light vs dark! The chase begins in typical McQueen-cool fashion. The bad guys are chasing McQueen when, suddenly, they find that now McQueen is chasing them – for about 12 minutes. And yes, McQueen was driving, at least for some of the chase. It is not a spoiler to tell you that McQueen survives and the bad guys don’t.
But the movie ends on a bittersweet note. Bullit triumphs but there are no kudos, no medals, no citations – just another day with Jacqueline lying in bad asleep and Bullit washing his hands. But can the dirt of years of hauling away human garbage ever be washed off? Heavy man, heavy.
Writer: Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner from a novel by Robert Pike
Director: Peter Yates
Cast: Steve McQueen, Jacquline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell (and watch for a cabbie played by Robert Duvall)
TCM FESTIVAL: SATURDAY APRIL 28, 11:45 AM TO 2 PM, TLC CHINESE THEATRE IMAX
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