Steve McQueen had been in several successful films, but this is the role that made him a legend. The story is little more than a framework for him to act cool. He doesn't say much and despite his name, doesn't fire his gun much either.
Frank Bullitt is assigned to protect a valuable mob witness. When that doesn't work out too well, he does battle with hit men as well as the ambitious Senator (Robert Vaughn) who staked his career on the case. Frank has a hot girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) who does't understand his life and a Ford Mustang that doesn't understand why it must be punished.
Hey, look at this supporting cast! Robert Duvall in a tiny roll, Normal Fell (you know, Mr. Roper), Simon Oakland (Black Sheep and Kolchak), Vic Tayback (Mel), and just about every heavy in Hollywood.
Sally Fields, who introduced the film with Robert Osborne, took exception to the Bisset character, saying she had nothing to do but look pretty. I understand her concern but I think she missed the point. She served as a foil for McQueen's character. She is young, pretty, and full of life, while he is old, older still for his time, hard, and emotionless. She does not understand his life and he has nothing to say about that. She's an object, but so are the hit men. And in a way, so it McQueen.
There is a little more to the story than I let on, but not a ton. It'll keep your interest, but the real story is how understated McQueen acts. Very subtle for an angry cop. Also interesting are the camera angle choices. No sets were made for Bullitt, so they filmed in real locations, where stuff gets in the way. Director Peter Yates chose to shoot through the obstructions. He did this also when the situation didn't demand it. Frank speaks with someone while his car is washed, so we see the scene through the rear window as water, suds, and brushes obscure the view. Interesting choices.
But people don't watch this film for the camera angles, or to hear McQueen not talk. It's the almost eleven minute car chase that makes it famous. That and it's excessive use of squibs and blood packets. For me, it's an interesting film and worth the watch. AMRU 3.5.
"Come on, now. Don't be naive, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public."