When one hears the movie title "Bullitt," the first thing that comes to the mind of many is its famous car chase. A Ford Mustang and a Dodge Charger tear through the streets of San Francisco in some of the most realistic street racing scenes ever filmed. For others, they will fondly remember its star, Steve McQueen. McQueen became one of the bigger mail leads during the 1960s and 1970s, only to have his career and life cut short by lung cancer at the age of 50 in 1980. McQueen was one cool cat and "Bullitt" is one of the finest examples of how cool the man could be. McQueen strove for authenticity when he signed on for "Bullitt," going as far as actually lying down between the wheels of the enormous landing gear on a jet airliner and taking the wheel of the Ford Mustang during the ultra-cool driving scenes. A word to best describe the Steve McQueen picture "Bullitt" is also the word cool.
"Bullitt" is a crime drama featuring not only Steve McQueen, but also Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Jacqueline Bisset and everybody's favorite landlord, Norman Fell. The film finds McQueen as police lieutenant Frank Bullitt. He is assigned to protect a man, Johnny Ross (Pat Renella) while he awaits taking the witness stand in an effort to bring down a large crime organization. With lawyer Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) breathing heavily down Bullitt's shoulders, Ross is shot point-blank with a shotgun and a fellow police officer is also shot. Bullitt doesn't stop when Ross is unable to take the stand against the crime lord and decides to bring down the man that has shot Ross and those behind the entire plot. With or without his partner, Delgetti (Don Gordon) and against the wishes of his Captain, Baker (Norman Fell) and further alienating his beautiful girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset), Bullitt is a loner who will stop at nothing to bring justice to those who deserve it.
The main character is a loner that is not understood by anybody around him. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Cathy, that wants to understand him and wants to love him, but feels he is becoming futher detached from reality with every case he solves and every ounce of blood he pays witness to. When she sees a dead girl lying on a floor, she is horrified, but Bullitt is calm and casual as he telephones the police to give further information on the case. His supervisors and superior officers know him as a man to count on and a man that will complete the job, but they do not understand his methods and cannot offer answers to his actions. He is an enigma to his partner, but an effective police officer. To everyone, Bullitt is viewed as perhaps more machine than man and very little trace of humanity is shown in the character, just complete calculated coolness.
"Bullitt" takes a look at politics and procedures in policework and the nosework that is sometimes needed to solve a crime. The autopsy scene in the film shows nearly no blood, but lists in great detail the sort of information you would overhear during an autopsy. Luggage is found and placed into police evidence and a lengthy scene involves Bullitt and others looking through the various bags to find even the slightest trace of evidence. The scene slowly offers information that will ultimately send Bullitt on his way to bring down the mastermind behind Ross's assassination. Answers are commonly given to let the viewer know why certain conclusions were made. For instance, one scene finds Delgetti stating a long distance call was made. He states that the large amount of change put into the pay phone was his evidence to this fact.
The politics come into play when Chalmers constantly wants to get a confession out of Ross or even a photograph to aid in his efforts. He tries to pull strings to force Bullitt into playing the game the way Chalmers wants it played. The police captain and others allow Chalmers to control the case because they consider Chalmers the kind of friend the police can always use. With its attention to detail and a look at what goes on behind the scenes of an investigation, "Bullitt" is a crime drama that entertains its audience with intelligence. This is not a lightweight film that relies on convenience and coincidence to move its plot along. The film does not force assumptions upon its viewers. Any piece of information that is needed for the viewer to understand and follow each step of the police investigators is offered up nicely.
This is not the typically action-paced crime dramas that are so prevalent today. The classic car chase between the Mustang and the Charger is wonderfully shot and full of speed, but it too lacks the over-the-top excitement of todays chases. There are no spectacular gunfights and while the climactic finish does bring about a tense moment or two; this is not an exciting film. While not exciting, it is certainly cool. Everything Steve McQueen does is cool. Just the way he puts on a turtleneck or walks across the street is cool. The way he handles his superior police officers is cool. The manner in which he simply hangs up on Captain Baker is cool. Every frame of this film is stylistic and cool and this is why "Bullitt" is so classic. Steve McQueen and "Bullitt" is a film that will easily keep your interest because it is so damn cool.
I have to admit that I've never seen "Bullitt" on any home video format before witnessing the Blu-ray disc. I had seen the film on cable television years ago, but have not seen it on either LaserDisc or DVD (having never personally owned a film on VHS, I don't consider it a comparable format). Knowing the film dates back almost forty years ago to 1968, my expectations were not particularly high. The much older "The Searchers" is incredibly looking in high definition and Warner Bros. is certainly capable of great things with older catalog titles, but many films from the Sixties and Seventies lack source materials that are capable of reproducing visuals such as "The Searchers." With fairly low expectations going into my screening of "Bullitt," they were easily surpassed and the VC-1/1080p transfer of the 2.40:1 "Bullitt" is quite striking throughout the film.
"Bullitt" is at times inconsistent. There are moments when the scenes are lowly lit that a high amount of film grain and lesser amount of detail is brought to the screen. One notable scene was when Steve McQueen was chasing the balding man with the shotgun through dark hallways and rooms of the lower floors of the hospital. A few other darkly lit scenes also exhibit this behavior. However, when strong natural lighting very good interior lighting is provided, "Bullitt" shines in high definition. Colors were quite good and the lovely and subdued hues of the late Sixties were nicely reproduced. The vehicles of 1968 were certainly not as colorful as the bright cars we have today. Flesh tones were very nicely shown on this Blu-ray disc and every ounce of detail on McQueen's face could easily be seen. With not expecting a lot from this film, "Bullitt" provided a good high definition experience that was nicely detailed and clean. Aside from the film grain and murky level of detail in the darker scenes, there was not much else that kept close to my original expectations.
Sadly, "Bullitt" is presented with a rather bland English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mixes are also included. "Bullitt" is a film that does not have a lot of high action moments and most of the film does not provide any great levels of sound that would benefit from a surround mix, but there are a few moments that would have shined in full 5.1 sound. The car chase and the climactic moments on the airport runway would have certainly sounded far more impressive in high definition sound. The stereo mix wasn't too bad. The revving motors of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger allowed for each engine's voice to be easily differentiated from one another. They revved high and their deep exhaust notes were lovely. "Bullitt" is a film with a decent amount of dialogue and every word sounds clear and intelligible. In today's world of high definition visuals and multi-channel surround sound, it becomes harder and harder to appreciate a soundtrack with only one or two channels. Even though this is a stereo mix, it is still quite clean and I can imagine that this is about as good as the film has ever sounded. Unfortunately, for today's standards it sounds a bit flat.
A few very nice special features are included on the disc. A Commentary by Director Peter Yates is a very nice commentary track. From listening to the audio commentary, I instantly gained a lot of respect for the director. He is an intelligent and well spoken man that provides a great deal of information and respect for his film and its star. You can understand the fondness that Yates had for both "Bullitt" and Steve McQueen. This was one of the better commentary tracks I've heard in recent months. A vintage featurettes from 1968 is included, Bullitt: Steve McQueen's Commitment to Reality. This nine minute featurettes is interesting due to the age of its production and the personal involvement with Steve McQueen. It takes a look at the vision McQueen had and the steps he made in order for "Bullett" to be as realistic as possible. The manner in which featurettes were made forty years ago is quite different from those we have today.
Two documentaries are included on the Blu-ray disc. The first is Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool. I was happy to see that I was not the only person who felt that Steve McQueen was the embodiment of coolness. This recent documentary runs for almost an hour and a half and is a wonderful look at McQueen himself and includes many familiar faces and their accounts of a man who died way too young. The documentary was surprising in that it was not completely positive in its recounting of Steve McQueen and had no problem in showing the flaws of the man. The second documentary is the even longer The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. Running at over an hour and a half in length, this is a look at the art of edition and takes a look at many films over the years. It didn't necessarily deal with "Bullitt," though did show a few scenes from the film. I found it quite interesting to see Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg give their thoughts on the art of editing. Though it didn't seem to belong on this disc, it was a very nice documentary. Finally, a Theatrical Trailer is included.
Whenever I have heard the name Steve McQueen, I think of a cool and tough character that is charismatic and convincing in his performances. When I have heard the name "Bullitt," I think of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger car chase. I had only watched the film once years ago on cable television, but was able to revisit it on Blu-ray. The visuals were quite good and better than I had expected. Audio was limited to the original source materials and a paltry two channels of sound were all that was offered up. The sound was clean and clear, but felt condensed when emanating from only two channels. The supplements contained on this Blu-ray disc are very good and makes the film a far better purchase on Blu-ray. This is a cool and entertaining film that has sound and picture quality that is above average for a film of its age, and with its very good extras, "Bullitt" is one of the nicer Blu-ray releases from Warner Bros.