Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Bullitt (1968)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Bullitt (1968)

In this Warner Bros.' classic car-chase/cop film by director Peter Yates (his second film) with his first American film - the suspenseful, violent police crime-thriller, a forerunner of present day cop films - was based upon Robert L. Fish's (aka Robert L. Pike) 1963 novel Mute Witness, and adapted by Alan R. Trustman & Harry Kleiner; it was enhanced by Lalo Schifrin's jazzy and brassy Original Music Score, and was honored with the Best Film Editing Academy Award (for its central chase sequence no doubt, one of the most quintessential film segments in all of cinematic history); it was also nominated for Best Sound. At some theatrical screenings, it shared double-billing with another milestone film from the previous year, Arthur Penn's violent Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

With its on-location, murky story about a cool-headed, no-nonsense maverick cop in the city of San Francisco, it served as a precursor to Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971) three years later. [Note: Unlike Eastwood's film with many sequels, there were none for Bullitt.] Other maverick cop films at the time also included Madigan (1968) and Coogan's Bluff (1968). In a few throw-away moments in the film, Bullitt revealed that he mostly ate frozen TV dinners, and would sometimes cheat newspaper machines to get a free paper.

Two other copy-cat urban police thrillers in the 70s with extended chase sequences tried to duplicate Bullitt's success: The French Connection (1971) and The Seven-Ups (1973). In his previous film, the British crime thriller Robbery (1967, UK), director Yates had included a car chase sequence through the streets of London.

Steve McQueen's detective title character Frank Bullitt was based on a real-life San Francisco detective named Dave Toschi who investigated the Zodiac killings.

  • the opening titles sequence was very impressively designed, with the titles moving up, down and across the screen
  • set in April of 1968 on a Friday evening in Chicago, two brothers Pete Ross (Victor Tayback) and hotheaded Johnny Ross (Pat Renella), both members of an organized Chicago crime syndicate known as 'The Outfit', were planning to meet at their office building; they were awaited by hitmen with revolvers drawn who smashed through a window with guns blazing; Johnny anticipated an ambush, threw tear gas into the office, and retreated down a few flights via elevator to the dark underground garage where he briefly acknowledged his brother Pete before screeching off in a black-topped white Cadillac; he was able to evade more gunfire
  • Pete phoned his superior with a simple message: "We lost him" - he was harshly threatened to follow through on the hit: "He's your brother, Ross. If you can't find him, we have people who will. And you're paying for the contract"
    [Note: Later, it was revealed that Johnny had siphoned off $2 million of the mob's money]
  • the next day (Saturday) in San Francisco, the well-dressed Johnny arrived in a Sunshine taxi at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in the Nob Hill area of San Francisco; he entered the lobby, and asked at the front desk if there were any messages for 'Johnny Ross', but there were none; after leaving in the same taxi (with a nodding dog in the back window), the tense-looking, suspicious Doorman at the hotel phoned and reported: "Yes, I'm sure it was him. Sunshine Cab, 6912"; Ross had the cab driver stop at a public pay-phone booth to make two calls (one local call to California politician Chalmers, and one other call)
  • meanwhile, early 30s, brown-haired SFPD detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) was fast asleep (after working on a case until 5 AM) when awakened in his apartment by his SFPD team member Detective John "Dell" Delgetti (Don Gordon); off-screen, they picked up a third member Sgt. Carl Stanton (Carl Reindel) before reaching their destination - the Pacific Heights mansion of aspiring, well-connected politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), who was in the midst of hosting a posh, catered afternoon tea party

Detective John "Dell" Delgetti (Don Gordon)

Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen)

Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn)
  • in a meeting with the unctuous and slimy Chalmers, Bullitt was asked to take "an important job" - to help protect a star witness ('Johnny Ross') from Chicago until his appearance to testify and provide "states's evidence" at a Senate Subcommittee hearing against the mob (the "organization") on Monday morning (40 hours into the future); Chalmers stated his own interest in furthering his career: "A senatorial hearing has a way of catapulting everyone involved into the public eye with a subsequent effect on one's career"
  • the threesome met up with 'Johnny Ross' for the "babysitting" job at a safe-house location rented for him by Chalmers - it was a cheap, dingy flophouse (at 226 Embarcadero Rd., Room # 634) known as the Daniels Hotel near a noisy highway overpass; Bullitt immediately phoned his boss, Captain Sam Bennett (Simon Oakland), who confirmed that Chalmers had hand-picked Bullitt: ("He's grooming himself for public office. You make good copy. They love you in the papers, Frank")
  • it was decided to divide up the task of protecting Ross in three shifts: Det. Delgetti (Sat: 5 pm -12 midnight), then Sgt. Stanton (early Sun AM) and finally Frank; Bullitt was worried about the rented room with its freeway windows and access via the fire-escape
  • afterwards, Bullitt briefly met up with his modishly-dressed, intelligent girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) at her high-pressure place of work on Montgomery St. - an architect's office; at the Coffee Cantata on Union St., Bullitt first phoned Delgetti to tell him about his exact whereabouts before having a fancy dinner with Cathy and other friends
  • at around midnight (Bullitt was in bed with Cathy for romance), Dell phoned that he was exchanging his shift with Stanton; shortly later at about 1 AM, Ross was buzzed by the 'front desk' at the Daniels Hotel that he had two visitors (allegedly Chalmers and a friend); Stanton was phoning Bullitt to confirm when Ross - without permission - deftly and silently unchained the room's door chain lock; two professional hit men burst in after kicking the door down (later identified as white-haired, 5 ft. 10 inches tall Mike (Paul Genge) and backup driver Phil (Bill Hickman) wearing glasses); with a Winchester pump-action shotgun, Stanton was shot in the left thigh (and kicked in the face), while Ross was seriously injured when shot in the chest and neck; just before he was hit, he begged: "No, wait. Now look. They told me..."
Lethal Shooting of 'Johnny Ross' in SF's Daniels Hotel by Two Hitmen
  • both Delgetti and ambulances arrived at the scene before Bullitt; a Black Dodge Charger was seen following Ross' ambulance, as Frank arrived to help tend to Stanton; Bullitt learned from Stanton during their ambulance ride that Ross had unlocked the door and let the killers in "like he was expecting someone"
  • at the hospital, Frank was told that Ross' chances were only 50-50, and heard from Captain Bennett about Chalmers' angry reaction to the screw-ups of their protection detail and how he would find blame with the department: ("He may try to make up some mileage by laying it on us"); Chalmers arrived after the unconscious Ross had been surgically treated for severe hemorrhaging, and remained in shock; the possibility of taking a deposition from him for the hearing was unlikely
  • Bullitt theorized that Chalmers might have made some sort of deal with Ross, because the two hitmen knew his whereabouts and used Chalmers' name; the single-minded Chalmers was more interested in having a "witness" who could testify; he threatened to completely ruin Bullitt's reputation and entire career due to the fiasco: "Lieutenant, I shall personally officiate at your public crucifixion if Ross doesn't recover during the course of the hearing so I can at least present his deposition. And, I assure you, I shall not suffer the consequence of your incompetence. And even if there wasn't any, I'm rather certain I can prove negligence on your part"
  • the elderly shotgun killer Mike reappeared at the hospital to silence Ross forever with a concealed icepick; Frank was notified and in the film's first and least significant pursuit sequence, he chased the hitman into the basement physical therapy wing of the hospital, but the man escaped; and then Ross suffered cardiac arrest and died of his severe injuries;
  • Frank's strategy, with the aid of attending physician Dr. Willard (Georg Stanford Brown), was to keep Ross' death a secret (he was labeled for the city morgue as a "John Doe" corpse and taken away in an unmarked ambulance) with a misplaced medical chart; this would help his own personal predicament, keep the case going, and not tip off the killers or Chalmers; with SFPD Captain Baker (Norman Fell), Chalmers was enraged when he found out that Ross' body had disappeared and he couldn't get any definitive answers; shortly later on Sunday morning, Chalmers served Bullitt's superior Captain Bennett with a writ of habeas corpus, pressuring him to produce Ross by Monday morning
  • through gritty detective case-work and questioning, the Daniels Hotel desk clerk (Al Checco) (who had been knocked unconscious) described the cab driver (and cab) that delivered Ross to the hotel; cab driver Weissberg (Robert Duvall) was located by Bullitt and remembered Ross (a passenger from the airport to the Mark Hopkins) and then to the hotel who - on the way - had made two phone calls from a public pay phone (one was a local call (to Chalmers), and one was a long-distance call to a hotel in San Mateo (mid Bay Area), because he put in a lot of change), before being dropped off at the Daniels Hotel
  • at a meeting on Sunday outside Enrico's with an informant named Eddy (Justin Tarr), Bullitt learned that Ross was being pursued by an organization known as "The Outfit" for having "his hands in the till" - he had stolen $2 million dollars via wire services
  • after Bullitt returned to his own parked car (a Highland Green, '68 4-speed Ford Mustang Fastback GT with California yellow-on-black license JJZ 109, powered by a 390/4V big block engine), he realized he was being followed by the two hit men (in a Tuxedo Black '68 4-speed Dodge Charger 440 R/T 440 Magnum); it was the start of a the spectacular, high-speed, nine minute car pursuit-chase sequence filmed with hand-held cameras over streets and up and down the narrow, hilly streets of San Francisco and through hazardous intersections (with airborne vehicles), and then onto a winding 2-lane road near Brisbane in the north Bay, with multiple crashes and collisions; the audio components of the scene were the most compelling with the sounds of squealing tires producing smoke from burning rubber, skidding turns around sharp corners, and the continual roar of both car engines
  • right at the start of the scene, Bullitt reversed things and pursued the hitmens' car; the classic chase one of the screen's all-time best car chase sequences (at up to 110 miles per hour), ended when Bullitt side-swiped their car and it lost control, veered off the road, and plowed into a gas station - with a fiery explosion

Hitman Mike (Paul Genge)

Hitman's Driver Phil (Bill Hickman)

In a Black Dodge Charger

The Chase is On - Switched Positions - Bullitt in Pursuit

Hitman Firing Shotgun From Back Window

Bullitt's Shattered Windshield

Violent Crash of Hitmens' Car
  • in the aftermath of the high-speed pursuit chase and crash on Sunday afternoon, Delgetti and Bullitt were called into Captain Bennett's office where they were interrogated by Captain Baker; Bennett ordered Bullitt to reveal that Ross was dead and that he had smuggled a dead man out of the hospital; Bullitt insisted that the two men he pursued had killed Ross but he had no proof due to their incinerated bodies; he was given until Monday morning to verify his assumptions
  • Bullitt's next lead was to follow up on the person-to-person long-distance phone call that Ross placed in Union Square to "Miss Dorothy Simmons. Thunderbolt Hotel. San Mateo" approximately nine hours before he was killed; without his own car, Bullitt hitched a ride in his girlfriend Cathy's yellow sportscar (1964 Porsche 356 C Cabriolet) to San Mateo's Thunderbolt Hotel where Dorothy was found brutally strangled in her room
  • as a result of seeing the carnage that Frank dealt with every day at the crime scene, Cathy expressed her concerns, in a long devastating lecture to him when they stopped by the roadside on the drive back to SF, about what his job was doing to his psyche and their relationship: "I thought I knew you. But I'm not so sure anymore. Do you let anything reach you? I mean, really reach you? Or are you so used to it by now that nothing really touches you? You're living in a sewer, Frank. Day after day.... I know it's there, but I don't have to be reminded of the whole thing. The ugliness around us! With you, living with violence is a way of life, violence and death. How can you be part of it without becoming more and more callous? Your world is so far from the one I know. What will happen to us in time?"; the taciturn Bullitt simply responded: "Time starts now"; it was unclear whether she would remain with him or not
  • once Bullitt returned to the office, he was informed that Dorothy's matching pink luggage had been recovered from the airport; among other things were Rome travel brochures (from a travel agency in Chicago), and several travelers' checkbooks and checks registered to Albert and Dorothy Renick (Dorothy's real name)

Corpse's Fingerprints
A Tele-Copy of Albert Renick's Passport Application
  • after the taking of fingerprints from 'Ross's' corpse, and a check of passport applications for the couple, the film's plot twist was revealed in the police headquarters -- the man killed in the Daniels Hotel was not 'Johnny Ross' but a doppelganger named Albert Renick, a Chicago used car salesman; the real Johnny Ross had paid Renick to be his double and a decoy, so that Ross could escape from the country on a 7 o'clock flight to Rome on Sunday night and avoid testifying for Chalmers the following week; and then Johnny Ross betrayed Renick by setting him up for a hit - he told the hitmen where to find him (his decoy actually) and kill him; Bullitt chided Chalmers: "You sent us to guard the wrong man, Mr. Chalmers"
  • Renick had been led to believe that he would meet up with his wife Dorothy (staying in the San Mateo hotel), probably for an all-expenses-paid trip to Rome on the Sunday evening flight; instead, Ross had planned to take the Renicks' flight; according to Bullitt: "Ross took close to $2,000,000 dollars from the Organization. And he set Renick up to get the heat off of him. Then he killed Renick's wife to shut her up"
  • the film concluded with a tense sequence in the SF Airport's Pan Am building (with Bullitt and Delgetti in pursuit, and Chalmers also present), where the crafty mobster Johnny Ross had switched to a slightly earlier flight to London; through Flight Control, Bullitt ordered the departing plane on the tarmac to return to the terminal's gate; while awaiting the plane's return, Bullitt had a moment's chance to tell the pushy, self-aggrandizing, and antagonistic Chalmers what he really thought of him: "Look, Chalmers, let's understand each other. I don't like you"

Nervous Johnny Ross on Departing Flight to London

Ross Shot Dead - Through Plate Glass Door
  • as the returned plane was boarded, Ross escaped by opening the rear cabin door, jumping down, and racing back onto the runway; after a long foot-race pursuit by Bullitt amidst deafening planes preparing to take-off, the two reentered the crowded terminal for a cat-and-mouse game before Ross shot a deputy sheriff dead through a set of glass doors; Bullitt shot back and violently killed him - he fell forward and shattered the glass door as he hit the floor; Bullitt respectfully covered Ross' body with his jacket to shield the gruesome view from upset spectators
  • Chalmers silently walked away to an awaiting car (with a bumper sticker: "SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POLICE"), regretful that he had lost his star witness
  • in the dialogue-less, low-key film's epilogue set early on Monday morning, Bullitt returned to his apartment to find Cathy in his bed; he deposited his badge on the table and stared into his bathroom mirror as he washed up

Johnny Ross (Pat Renella) in Chicago

Johnny's Brother Pete Ross (Victor Tayback)

Johnny Ross (Felice Orlandi) in San Francisco at Mark Hopkins Hotel (Spoiler alert: alias doppelganger Albert Renick)

Hotel Doorman Phoning In Ross' Whereabouts

Frank Bullitt's Girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bissett)

'Ross' Unexplicably Unchained Hotel Door Lock Chain

Two Hitmen (l to r) Mike and Phil, Watching as the First Ambulance Left the Daniels Hotel - They Followed in a Dodge Charger

Chalmers Incensed by Disappearance of Ross' Body - Assisted by SFPD Captain Baker (Norman Fell)

Captain Bennett Served with a Writ of Habeas Corpus by Chalmers to Produce Missing 'Johnny Ross' by Monday

Observant Sunshine Cab Driver Weissberg (Robert Duvall)

Bullitt With Informant Eddy (Justin Tarr)

Bullitt's Car, Dark Green Ford Mustang, Before Chase

Bullitt Behind Hitmens' Car, Viewed in Rear View Mirror

Bullitt Directly Behind Car in SF

Outside SF - (Bullitt's Car Still in Pursuit)

Dorothy Simmons (Spoiler alert: alias Dorothy Renick) Strangled in San Mateo Hotel Room

Cathy's Concerns About Frank's Callous Life

The Real Johnny Ross - Briefly Glimpsed at the Thunderbold Hotel - After Murdering Dorothy 'Simmons' (Renick)

Dorothy 'Simmons' (Renick's) Travelers' Checks

At the Airport, Bullitt's Honest Retort to Chalmers: "I don't like you"

Epilogue: Cathy in Bullitt's Apartment Bed


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