The Austere Beauty of Bullitt

The chase scene in Bullitt (1968) is bare bones, beautiful. Its minimal use of music, aside from Lalo Schifrin’s jazz score that leads into the scene, allows you to focus on what’s playing out on screen. Steve McQueen is calm but determined. The villains he is pursuing are quiet, creepy. It is an austere scene, free of unnecessary distractions.

My dad first turned me onto Bullitt when I was a kid, a moment I don’t precisely remember given how many times we’ve watched it together. It’s hard to say exactly what brings me back to this scene every time it is on television. I imagine part of it is familiarity. I know my dad loves the buildup. In other words, the first two minutes and 25 seconds of the scene where detective Frank Bullitt (McQueen) diligently trails the two men in the “Tuxedo Black” 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum. Usually, just as the Charger peels away from Bullitt, my dad leans in to tell me, “Here they go.” A moment later, Bullitt, in his dark “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang G.T.390 Fastback is heavy on the gas pedal, racing toward villains #1 and #2. And for the next 10 minutes my dad and I quietly sit together, watching this piece of film that makes us both so happy.

When I was over at my parent’s house last February, I missed the opportunity to watch the scene with my dad. We were spending the night at their place because our house had lost heat and power in a snowstorm. I had just spent six hours shoveling us out of the private road where we live. I was exhausted, ready to drop. That night my dad was sitting in my mom’s home office, watching Bullitt on a small TV. He had an empty office chair for me pulled up next to him. “The chase hasn’t come on yet,” he told me. Then I heard someone calling my name. It was either my wife or my mom or maybe my three-year-old son, asking me to come downstairs. I told my dad I would be right back. But I was gone too long. When I came back the scene was over. “You missed it,” he said. TC mark

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  • PINA

    Well, well. An extremely puritan one, but an extremely good one.

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