Screengrab: Speeding Bullitt

Screen GrabRichard Lutz poses the big question as he delves into the listings and finds the TV film of the week.


OK, I’ll get to the point.

Is the 1968 film Bullitt the greatest action film of all time?

With that ten minute car chase roaring around the steeplechase hills of San Francisco; Steve McQueen’s rebel cop making up his own rules as he breaks everyone else’s rules; the mystifying crime plot that kind of loops all over the place but still makes sense; the minimalist sharp script, and, the ultimate detective who takes on all comers, c’mon friends, who can beat it?

Lt Bullitt

Lt Bullitt

Watch it and it still knocks the pants off anything made in the past ten years… no, 30 years. It is still fresh, still newly minted. And maybe that’s why Bullitt (Tues, 13.50, Sky Movies Action) is a permanent fixture on my hard drive.

Many a film has been seen on that much-used device and erased. Come and gone. But Bullitt, with that hypnotic score by Lalo Shifrin, is a must for me at least twice a year, never before midnight and always with a drink (well, of chocolate milk, if nothing else.)


McQueen, in his day, was a racing car driver ands knew a thing or two about muscle cars. He had that Ford Mustang GT pound the SF streets and highways. English director Peter Yates bought a pair of Dodge Chargers (laden, of course, with hard-faced baddies) driven like a vehicle possessed behind McQueen and wisely put cameras in the front seat to look through the window as if you were in the car as it hit speeds of 110 mph and seemed to shoot into space as it took the humps and bumps of the Bay Area hills.

That Mustang

That Mustang

What many didn’t realise is the interchangeable Dodge chase cars were so powerful (they had V~8 engines) that the drivers had to hold back in case they overtook the much cooler but slower Mustang handled by either McQueen or his stunt double.

McQueen produced it and his co-stars added heft: Jacqueline Bissett in her first film role, veteran Robert Vaughan as the politician you loved to hate and minor roles fleshed out by Robert Duvall (with hair) and po-faced Simon Oakland (highly recognisable in at least half the crime movies of that era) as the hatchet-faced but fair boss who has to handle McQueen’s Lt Frank Bullitt.

If the word ‘icon’ is to be used in film terms, McQueen’s Frank Bullitt is IT. Forty years after the movie was made, Ford Cars actually made a Bullitt model. And about that time, the car company used computer edits to insert McQueen into its TV ads. He was still so fresh in everyone’s minds, he could still sell cars four decades after the movie first came out, decades after dying of cancer.

The film, by the way, grabbed an Oscar for best editing.

And if you think that is an award of the second order, just watch the final-cut chase scene which is accepted as one of the best eve r- and that before the hi-jinks of CGI. It took three weeks to film and pared down to ten minutes on screen. I don’t usually do this but here is the Youtube of that scene and, remember, wear a seat belt if you’re gonna take it in.

My, my, what a film.

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