Wednesday, 4 February 2015
Even with a top level cast including Steve McQueen, the real star of this film is the 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback - isn't it? Famed for the sequence that sees a Dodge Charger 440 Magnum chased over the unusually empty switchback streets of a beautiful San Francisco, this film is actually all about morality and how society polices it.
For once the cop is straight and as usual the politician is bent. McQueen brings a steely and seemingly unemotional quality to his role as a Police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt tasked with giving protection to a crook who is due to testify against the mob at a Congressional hearing. The Congressman who stands to gain most from this is marvellously played by Robert Vaughn who oozes sleaze and condescension as he seeks to control and manipulate everyone around him.
The plot is for the most part straightforward but there are one or two twists along the way. San Francisco looks radiantly glorious in its late sixties hippy chic setting. The dialogue is often sparse and always direct - there is little nuance or subtlety here. There are positive models of strong leadership and trust but also a warning about a criminal justice system that is too prone to the exploitation of opportunist self-serving politicians. Bullitt is depicted as wrestling with his humanity in the face of interference from those in authority whilst following his hunch that everything is not quite what it seems.
The whole plot is beautifully mirrored in an exchange between Bullitt and his girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) towards the end of the film. She flounces around San Fran in her canary yellow Porsche enjoying an indulgent and bohemian lifestyle because the freedom for her to do that exists. The cost of such freedom is paid by people like Bullitt and his colleagues who have to clear up the mess and put away the criminals.
This is a very good thriller - but very much of its time, which in no way diminishes the enjoyment of engaging with this particular morality tale. It's almost worth it just for the car chase! I'll give it 8/10. I watched it on blu-ray which was a disappointment - some of it didn't transfer at all well but considering it's nearly 50 years old that's hardly surprising.