The Bullitt film was made by McQueen’s Solar Productions company, with his then-partner Robert E. Relyea as executive producer. Released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, the film was a critical and box office smash, later winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller) and receiving a nomination for Best Sound.
Writers Trustman and Kleiner won a 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Bullitt is notable for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, regarded as one of the most influential in movie history.
Photograph of a car with a driver looking backwards out of its window. The car’s rear tire is smoking because it is spinning against the road.
Bullitt burning rubber in the car chase scene.
At the time of the film’s release, the car chase scene generated a great amount of excitement. Leonard Maltin has called it a ‘now-classic car chase, one of the screen’s all-time best.’
Emanuel Levy wrote in 2003 that, ‘Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood’s standards.’
In his obituary for Peter Yates, Bruce Weber wrote ‘Mr. Yates’ reputation probably rests most securely on “Bullitt” (1968), his first American film – and indeed, on one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic.’The editing of this scene likely won editor Frank P. Keller the Academy Award for Best Editing.
The producer Philip D’Antoni filmed two more car chases for The French Connection and The Seven-Ups, both set and filmed in New York City.
McQueen, an accomplished driver, drove in the close-up scenes, while stunt coordinator Carey Loftin, stuntman and motorcycle racer Bud Ekins, and McQueen’s usual stunt driver Loren Janes drove for the high-speed part of the chase and other dangerous stunts.
Ekins, who doubled for Steve McQueen in the The Great Escape sequence where McQueen’s character jumps over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle, also lays one down in front of a skidding truck during the Bullitt chase. The Mustang’s interior rear view mirror goes up and down depending on who is driving; when the mirror is up McQueen is visible behind the wheel; when it is down a stunt man is driving.
The director called for maximum speeds of about 75–80 miles per hour (121–129 km/h), but the cars (including the chase cars filming) at times reached speeds of over 110 miles per hour (180 km/h). Driver’s point-of-view shots were used to give the audience a participant’s feel of the chase. Filming took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of pursuit, first of Bullitt by the hitmen then the reverse. Because of multiple takes spliced into a single end product, heavy damage on the passenger side of Bullitt’s car can be seen much earlier than the incident producing it and the Charger loses five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots.
Watch the beautifully choreographed Bullit title sequence at artofthetitle.com, where also Taxidriver, The Untouchables and others are featured.
The black Dodge Charger was driven by veteran stunt driver Bill Hickman, who both played one of the hitmen and helped with the chase scene choreography. The other hitman was played by Paul Genge, who had ridden a Dodge off the road to his death in an episode of Perry Mason (‘The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise’) two years earlier. In a magazine article many years later, one of the drivers involved in the chase sequence remarked that the stock Dodge 440s were so much faster than the Mustang that the drivers had to keep backing off the accelerator to prevent the Dodge from easily pulling away from the Mustang.
One of the two Mustangs was scrapped after filming because of damage and liability concerns, while the other was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers.
The car changed hands several times, with McQueen at one point making an unsuccessful attempt to buy it in late 1977. The current state and location of the surviving Mustang is largely unknown, but it is rumored that the Mustang is kept in a barn somewhere in the Ohio River Valley by an unknown owner.
Shooting from multiple angles simultaneously and creating a montage from the footage to give the illusion of different streets also resulted in the speeding cars passing the same cars at several different times. At one point the Charger crashes into the camera in one scene and the damaged front fender is noticeable in later scenes. Local authorities did not allow the car chase to be filmed on the Golden Gate Bridge, but did permit it in Midtown locations including the Mission District, and on the outskirts of neighboring Brisbane.