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Film: Bullitt

Highly influential 1968 cop movie set in San Francisco. Steve McQueen stars as the eponymous Lt. Frank Bullitt, a TV dinner-eating, workaday Cowboy Cop (in fact, the Ur Example of this trope) who goes after the Mafia hit men who killed a witness he was protecting.

Best known for a legendary, nearly-ten-minute Chase Scene in which McQueen, largely eschewing stunt men, famously drove a certain green Mustang all over San Francisco in pursuit of two bad guys in a black Dodge Charger. Also one of the first chase scenes filmed with cars at full speed instead of using sped-up film as a cheat.


Bullitt provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Bullitt and Cathy talking about how he might be getting too callous about violence in his job.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The book Mute Witness describes Frank Bullitt as a cop who "eats a lot of ice cream and never solves a case". The rights were originally secured for a movie to star Spencer Tracy, who more closely resembled the book's version of the character.
  • Artistic License - Geography: The path of the chase scene jumps all over San Francisco, primarily around Russian Hill, Potrero Hill, and San Bruno Mountain.
  • Camera Abuse: Early in the chase, the Charger hits a car, and then suddenly the Charger and skid marks are missing. As shown in the "making of" feature, it had smashed through the camera.
  • Character Title
  • Chase Scene: Boy howdy.
  • Cool Car: Bullitt's Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback (ask a gearhead if they can recite that if you need proof) has become so iconic that Ford has released two Mustang Bullitt editions over the years. Also, the black Dodge Charger R/T driven by the hitmen.
    • Said black Charger R/T was not only so much faster than the Mustang that the crew had to remove two of its spark plugs and install thin tires from a base Charger to slow it down, but it survived the repeated jumping and abuse of the chase scene filming with ease, while the Mustang needed constant repairs. Cool car indeed.
      • Specifically, there were two of both cars, but only one of the Chargers was an R/T. Afterwards, one Mustang had to be destroyed for liability purposes, and the other was sold to a production crew member, and disappeared sometime after McQueen's death.note  The R/T Charger was sold to Arnold Welch, the non-R/T was sold back to the Chrysler dealership, repainted yellow and sold to an unsuspecting customer (the same thing happened with Vanishing Point).
    • Bullitt's girlfriend has a snazzy yellow Porsche 356.
  • Cowboy Cop: Thought to be the Trope Maker, also a fine example of an Unbuilt Trope as things don't turn out quite how we'd expect.
    • Glenn Ford in The Big Heat is kind of a Cowboy Cop, but more along the lines of The Unfettered working for a hopelessly corrupt police force. Bullitt is probably the first pure example.
  • Da Chief: Captain Bennett. Unlike most examples of the character type, he's a Reasonable Authority Figure who gives Bullitt freedom to run the investigation in his own way, and takes the cop's side against Senator Chalmers.
    • Subverted with Captain Baker, who spends most of the movie with his head up Chalmers' ass.
  • Dies Wide Open: Dorothy Rennick, found strangled.
  • Faking the Dead/Dead Person Impersonation: As it turns out, the real Johnny Ross was playing just about everyone in order to escape scot-free by faking his own death.
  • Film Noir: One of the better Post-Classic ones out there.
  • The Hunter Becomes The Hunted: The car chase begins with Bullitt deliberately drawing out his would-be killers, then quickly losing them and ending up behind them.
  • Ikea Weaponry: The assassins' Winchester shotgun.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: The chase scene starts with this.
  • The Informant: Eddy, who Bullitt meets with at a cafe.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: The ending. Bullitt stands in his bathroom washing his hands and pondering just how badly he's screwed things up.
    • Or just how much his girlfriend Cathy is right about how callous he is about the violence he faces on the job. Note that the last shot is a closeup of his gun and bullet clip.
  • The Mafia: The bad guys in the film. Referred to by Chalmers as "The Organization".
  • Precision F-Strike: Made even more effective because this was the first major film to use this word:
    Senator Chalmers: Frank, we must all compromise.
    Bullitt: Bullshit.
  • Product Placement: Ford Motor Company paid for Bullitt to drive a Ford Mustang in the chase scene. As noted elsewhere on this page, they reaped huge dividends.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Bullitt finds everyone responsible for the death of the witness, and clears the department of the charge that their negligence led to his death. However, all the criminals responsible end up dead—and with them, any chance of bringing the rest of the Mafia to justice.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Cathy looks good in Bullitt's shirt.
  • Shallow Love Interest: Jacqueline Bissett, as Bullitt's girlfriend Cathy, does two things in the movie. First, she looks very very pretty. Second, she has one scene where she guilt-trips Bullitt about getting too callous about his work. That's it.
  • Sleazy Politician: Chalmers. In fact he's so sleazy that he's almost a Red Herring. Especially in the scene where he tries to bribe Bullitt's chief to turn Ross over.
  • Slo-Mo Big Air: During the chase scene.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Johnny Ross, a mobster who embezzled money from the mob, then cut a deal with Senator Chalmers to testify against the mob in exchange for immunity and witness protection.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The now-hopelessly obsolete photocopier that Bullitt and the rest of the cops stare at for several minutes as it's printing a photograph, which is being transmitted over a dial-up phone line.
  • Weapon Stomp
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cathy gives Bullitt a mild one when she inadvertently sees his cool and business-like attitude towards the scene of a brutal murder. Tellingly, he doesn't disagree with her assessment.
  • Witness Protection: The movie starts with Bullitt on this detail.

Point BlankFilm NoirKlute
The Birthday PartyFilms of the 1960sThe Charge Of The Light Brigade
The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceNational Film RegistryClose Encounters of the Third Kind
The Brave OneCreator/Warner Bros.Caddyshack

alternative title(s): Bullitt
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