Bullitt

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Ambitious politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is holding a Senate subcommittee hearing in San Francisco on organized crime in America. To improve his political standing, Chalmers hopes to interrogate key witness Johnny Ross (Pat Renella), a man who has represented to him (and that he has accepted), as defector from the organization. Chalmers hopes to introduce his “surprise” witness a la “Joe Valachi”, who he will question in public sessions of the Committee’s hearings. It will be an individual who, as promised, will deliver unspecified inside information on the workings and operations of the “organization”. The plot of Bullitt takes place the weekend before the hearings, from the Friday night (during the opening credits), when, as per Chalmer’s request, Ross enters the protective custody of the San Francisco police, to Monday morning, when he is suppose to testify.

However, Ross is first and foremost not who he has represented himself to be to Chalmers; and, Chalmers does not know this. Johnny Ross is not the low level mob technician who has come to Chalmers; to both renounce, and flee, his life in the underworld of organized crime. He is in fact, a high level mob accountant who, for the mob, runs its off-track betting & interstate wire service. Ross has also embezzled and stolen $2 million of the mob’s money, while heading that operation. Chalmers does not know that the whole act of Ross defecting is false. Ross is escaping from Chicago to San Francisco.

Bullitt, Sergeant Delgetti (Don Gordon) and Detective Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel), give Ross around-the-clock protection at the Hotel Daniels, a cheap flophouse near the Embarcadero Freeway. Late Saturday night Ross inexplicably unchains the hotel room door; before Stanton can react, a pair of hitmen (Paul Genge and Bill Hickman) burst into the room and shoot Stanton and Ross, seriously wounding both.

Bullitt wants to investigate the shooting in the hotel, while an upset Chalmers attempts to place blame on to Bullitt and the department, trying to clear his name for the shooting. After Bullitt thwarts another assassination attempt by Genge, Ross dies of his wounds. Bullitt suppresses this news, sneaking the man’s body out of the hospital.

Chalmers arrives at the hospital on Sunday morning and is angered Ross has disappeared and Bullitt, admitting he has Ross, will not reveal his location and that he will protect himself, while he is worried how will he explain that Ross is dead.

Bullitt reconstructs Ross’s movements, finding the cab driver Weissberg (Robert Duvall) who brought him to the hotel. He is told by the cabbie that Ross had made both a local and long distance call from a pay phone before he came to the hotel. Records reveal the local was to a hotel south of San Francisco. Bullitt picks up his 1968 Ford Mustang GT and sees he is being tailed by the hitmen. He turns the tables and follows them, resulting in a protracted, highly dangerous car chase that ends with the hitmen dying in a fiery crash. Back at the police station Bullitt is given until Monday morning to follow his remaining lead.

With the help of his girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) Bullitt heads to the hotel Ross called, where he finds a woman registered under the name Dorothy Simmons (Brandy Carroll) murdered. Cathy wanders into the scene and is disturbed, shortly expressing her fear to Bullitt that he is becoming as cold and unfeeling as the criminals he chases to the law.

The dead woman’s luggage yields a pair of empty passport and airline ticket folders, brochures from a Chicago travel agency for a Rome vacation, and a pair of traveler’s check books denominated in thousands signed by a Dorothy and Albert Renick. Bullitt tells Delgetti to contact Immigration Service in Chicago and obtain the photos their passports were issued under.

Bullitt has reasoned the events of the weekend into a coherent whole. Johnny Ross is an embezzler had to set in motion a scheme to get away with his acts of embezzlement from the mob. From the beginning Ross knew that the mob, not the police, were his most important problem. He needed a way to have the mob stop looking for him, if he were to have any hope of actually getting away with his theft of their money.

So Ross recruited and paid the Rennicks to have Albert Rennick impersonate Johnny Ross, as a man on-the-run in San Francisco, seeking protective custody in a Senate hearing and turning state’s evidence, under police protection. Rennick (as Ross), took the chain off the door of the hotel room to help his “kidnappers” (as he thought the plan was) make him disappear from police custody. The airline tickets and the traveler’s checks in both Mr. and Mrs. Rennick’s names wrongly convinced them that their vacations in Rome; (not their murders), were the real plan that Johnny Ross had for them.

Chalmers arrives at the morgue, demanding from Bullitt a signed admission that Ross died while in his custody. Bullitt demurs, and when the faxed copy of the Renicks’ passport photos arrives, Chalmers is shown to have sent the police to protect the wrong man. Ross, and his older brother, set Albert Renick up in order to be killed as “Johnny Ross” so the real Ross could escape the mob. Johnny then killed Dorothy Renick to silence her.

At the airport a search of the Rome flight passenger list reveals no Ross or Renick. Bullitt guesses that Ross switched his ticket to an earlier international flight heading for London. He discovers the real Johnny Ross already boarded and the flight ready for take off. Chalmers makes one last attempt to use Ross for his own ends, which Bullitt angrily rejects before going after Ross. A chase across the busy runways of San Francisco Airport ensues, with Bullitt eventually shooting and killing Ross after chasing him back into the terminal. Bullitt then returns home to a sleeping Cathy. After taking off his gun and placing it on a table he looks at himself in the bathroom mirror and seems troubled by what he sees looking back at him.

REVIEW:

I’ve heard lots of talk about Bullitt, specifically the car chase scene, so I got curious and decided to give it a look-see. Was my curiosity rewarded or was I unmercifully punished?

What is this about?

Lt. Frank Bullitt must baby-sit a Chicago gangster for 48 hours before he testifies against his brother. But when hit men snuff the witness, Bullitt won’t be stopped in his quest for vengeance.

What did I like?

Characters. In today’s films, we rarely see any kind of character development or nuance. This film, obviously a product of a time when filmmakers were more interested in the product rather than the money, we are allowed some insight into most of these characters. What is it that makes them tick, that drives them, etc. I’ll be the first to say that sometimes you just want to get to the good stuff where things blow up and whatnot, but every now and then it is nice to pull the reins back and observe what films are supposed to be.

Get your engines revved up. There are two selling points to this film, technically three, but the third is barely in it. They are Steve McQueen, an epic car chase scene, and a young and hot Jacqueline Bisset. No disrespect to Bisset and McQueen, but the car chase scene really made the film for me. It comes along at the right time, as there isn’t much going on before it happen. I honestly believe that I dozed off a couple of times until I heard those engines revving up. Growing up in the 80s, I loved shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, etc, which often showed car chases, which appear to have been highly influenced by this scene. Most impressive to me was how the filmmaker decided to edit it. Instead of just seeing the chase scene, we also get a look from the driver’s point of view. I wish some filmmakers would bring this technique back today, as it would make for more interesting and exciting chase scenes.

Get real. Unless I’m mistaken, there are no special effects to be found in this flick. That may be why I was so fascinated by it. Contrasting to the current crop of films of this ilk where they use CGI as a sad attempt to make everything look “real”, ironically, the fact that there are no effects used in this flick is part of the reason it works on so many levels. I don’t belive it would have been as effective otherwise.

2 of 7. This film offers a bit of a mini-reunion, as two actors from The Magnificent Seven (I will be revisiting that one before the year is out) are reunited. Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn, the last living member of the 7 as of the time I’m writing this, seem to be familiar, yet distant from each other. A manner very similar to their limited, if any, interaction in the classic western.

What didn’t I like?

Pacing. I may praise the way the film takes its time developing these characters and such, but the pacing of this film leaves a bit to be desired. You can make the case all you want about  how we, as a society, today have come to want instant gratification so quickly that a good story with a beginning, middle, and end is looked upon as slow and boring. I won’t argue that point, because it has its validity. However, the slow build-up to the big payoff scenes (car chase and climactic conclusion) just didn’t strike my fancy. As I said before, I dozed off in a couple of places, never a good sign for a so-called action flick, even if it more on the crime drama/thriller side of things.

Eye candy. I’m the last person to complain about a hot woman being used as nothing more than eye candy, but when said woman has real talent like Jacqueline Bisset, then I take umbrage with the way she is used. Bisset has one good scene late in the film where she gets all emotional and whatnot, but for the rest of the film, she is nothing more than the token hot chick. Granted, I’m not really sure what she could have done in a film like this so, if they wanted a random hot girl, why not just pick some hottie up out of obscurity to play this role?

If you’re in the mood for some good, classic crime thriller action, then Bullitt is the film for you. No, this isn’t something you should just randomly check out for the car chase scene. Trust me, if you do, you will be sadly disappointed, as that scene, in all its glory, lasts for 10 minutes, and then we never really see the car again. That point aside, this is really a solid film that could be more enjoyable than you think. From what I hear, it is even better the second time around.

4 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Bullitt”

  1. […] Car. The first few minutes of the film are spent introducing us to the characters and laying out parts of the plot, then the car is rolled out. Once I saw that thing, I knew business was about to pick up, and then that engine started purring. Man, I gotta tell ya, that was akin to a symphony. Hopefully in time, this will go down as a great cinema car, along with the car from Bullitt. […]

  2. […] Think back to 70s crime thriller films like Bullitt. If you’re one of those people who misses those kind of pictures, then this is right up your […]

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