WB Top 100: Bullitt (1968)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

We both have heard of Steve McQueen – thank you Pixar – but neither of us had ever seen any of his movies. I had expected an action-packed adventure. And, though I am sure it got pulses racing in 1968, “Bullitt” played more akin to a Film Noir movie than anything with any real action.

McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt, a renowned San Francisco police officer. He and his men are entrusted with protecting a key witness for an upcoming Senate subcommittee hearing by a senator (Robert Vaughn) with eyes on a bigger office. So far, so good (for an action movie plot).

“Bullitt” isn’t an action movie, however; it is a fairly by-the-books police procedural. There is nothing wrong with that, but I found the film to be painfully slow. The long, drawn out moments of suspense were about as suspenseful as driving over a suspension bridge. That is to say, only if you try holding your breath because you will likely run out of air before anything happens.

Even the movie’s renowned car chase sequence was a letdown. Sure, it is shot great and took real talent to pull off, but flying through the deserted (huh?) mid-day streets of San Francisco either means lots of uphills or downhills. Once they got out of the city to straighter roads and they had to weave through traffic, it got exciting, but then it ended on the forever cheesy trope of “running over something explosive and dying horribly”.

The problem with a movie like “Bullitt” is that it’s kind have not aged well. More realistic portrayals of police procedures and the inside of an emergency room help, but Law & Order does that even better these days and you can watch it all day long when you visit your parents/grandparents. Plus, each episode is a tight 45 minutes (forgetting the commercials).

That’s not to say it was a bad film, just one I didn’t enjoy. The shots of San Francisco and the cinematography are all fantastic. I can buy into Steve McQueen as a cool dude too. I also loved that we got some actual blood and gore for a change. It made me realize we are getting closer and closer to the modern era after all.

I am sure this film is a favorite for a lot of dads and granddads out there, but film and television have done everything “Bullitt” does better and more often. Appearances from Robert Duvall and Stanley from Three’s Company couldn’t even save it. I would turn on whatever channel in your country marathons Law & Order or its international sibling and take a great nap.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.


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2 responses to “WB Top 100: Bullitt (1968)”

  1. Bullitt was one of several movies from roundabout this time that started pushing the boundaries of what was normally depicted in terms of violence. I believe it lead to the MPAA coming up with the modern rating systems that we see in the US today.

    I broadly like Bullitt and as I grew up at a time when movies and TV were of a slower pace, I don’t find this so much of an issue. I sometimes think modern cinema is too lightning paced at the expense of plot and character development. But that issue is a blog post in itself.

    Another thing I’d raise about Bullitt is the Lalo Schifin soundtrack. He’s a great composer and did a lot of movies of this idiom during the 60s and 70s. His score for some of the Dirty Harry movies are really colourful.

    I only got round to seeing this classic a few years ago. It’s one of those movies that has a reputation and a popular consensus agreeing upon it’s merit. So I was quite curious to see if it could live up to that. If I may be so bold, here are my thoughts on it. http://www.containsmoderateperil.com/blog/2017/3/29/bullitt-1968

    Liked by 1 person

    • All good points. I liked the soundtrack, but I think some of its best sonic ideas have been preempted in parodies and pornography since. I laughed a few times at the “get down” sounds coming at me.

      In terms of violence, the film struck me as exactly what mothers at the time would’ve warned against, but I don’t know if kids were really dying to see this.

      As for speed, I don’t mind slower, but the story needs to be good. I think that’s why so many slower police procedural serial killer movies work. This one was basic and the twist not particularly exciting.


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