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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Mute Witness


Plot Overview

To a jazzy background beat, we get a fish-eye view of what looks like an office closed for the week­end, some faces peering in as the office is panned. The camera draws back from the curved lamp­shade on whose chrome surface the scene was refelcted, to show us the quiet offices of, named on the wall:
      Mr. John  Ross
      Mr. Peter Ross

A smoke grenade is tossed in, some heavies crash on through ("DANGER"), and a car speeds away. One of the men places a phone call, saying, “This is Pete. We lost him.” A no non­sense voice on the other end tells him, “He's your brother, Ross. If you can't find him, we have people who can. And you're paying for the contract.”

John—we presume it's he—shows up in San Francisco hopping a Sunshine Cab. He makes a phone call (or two) from a booth before being let out at a flea­bag hotel. Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) an ambitious Assistant DA is assigned Detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) to guard this man. “We're going to expose the Organi­zation,” he tells him. “Have him in court on Monday, Frank.” John is their star wit­ness. “He ran the wire services for his brother Pete.” He also skimmed $2 million, which is why the contract.

This weekend will be a mind bender, including a smoke screen (or two), a hit team (“Shot­gun and a backup man”), a car chase (involving a Ford Mustang Shelby Coleman & a souped up Dodge Charger), a wakeup call for Frank's naive girl­friend (Jacqueline Bisset) Cathy (“What will happen to us?”), and an airport security night­mare ("SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POLICE"), with a few dead bodies thrown in for good measure.


“Bullitt” plays out like one of the Psalms, half of one, anyway: (Psalm 143:7) “Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.” The psalmist wanted a speedy hearing and a view of the face of God, to avoid the pit. Bullitt behind the wheel in the chase needed God's face, so to speak, to direct traffic out of his way, and in a hurry; he didn't want to end up driving into the ditch.

(Psalm 143:8) “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.” We see Bullitt rising early in the morning, being sweet talked by his girl­friend, and setting out on his course for the day,

(Psalm 143:9) “Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me.” Bullitt has some powerful political enemies, but the chief covers for him.

(Psalm 143:10) “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of upright­ness.” Cathy tells him, “You're living in a sewer, Frank. Day after day.” He needs God's help not to be infected, as we see intimated by shots of a church (where Chalmers seeks a favor from a member), nuns and a man in clerical garb at the air­port, and Peanuts cartoons posted on the hospital's bulletin board—Charles Schultz was know to incorporate rudi­men­tary gospel messages in his work.

(Psalm 143:11–12) “Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.” Frank is on the side of the angels. We want him to prevail and for his enemies to fall short of their goals.

Production Values

“Bullitt” (1968) was directed by Peter Yates. Its screenplay was written by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner. It was based on Robert L. Pike's novel, Mute Witness. It stars Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, and Robert Vaughn, with an out­standing supporting cast that includes Simon Oak­land (as Captain Bennett), Robert Duvall (the cab driver Weiss­berg), Norman Fell (Captain Baker), Georg Stanford Brown (Doctor Willard), Justin Tarr (Eddy) and Vic Tayback (Pete Ross). Steve McQueen tore up large portions of the script and instead communicated with just his eyes—this worked pretty well. The Negro doctor was ahead of his time.

The car chase on the streets and freeway of S.F. is one of the best in the business, being done for real sans props. Every car on the street was manned by a stunt driver. The chase reached speeds of up to 110 mph. The sets are basically the whole city. Mayor Alioto wanted to encourage movie making, so he gave the crews carte blanche, including: a wing of a hospital (complete with resident medical per­son­nel), an empty air­port terminal (filled with extras), and three airplanes to tool around the runways. The street signs are a veritable tour of the city.

The movie seems current, but there's some dated technology in it. They use a dinosaur of a “tele­copier” to receive a fax. Old ladies at the airport are politely referred to as “girls” (common usage in 1968.) The wardrobes seem con­tem­porary; the cars on the street are not shocking. Lalo Schifrin's jazz score is quite suit­able, and it goes mute for the muscle car race. The name Bullitt sounds like bullet, but he didn't actually fire that many in the movie; it was more of a mind exercise.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

“Bullitt” was something like a Dirty Harry movie with a maverick cop as a lead. It was interesting but not as high powered as some. You'll definitely get your consumer money's worth from this one, and you may be missing some­thing if you don't see it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed.

Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years 
                                       with parental guidance.

Special effects: Well done special effects, real looking.

Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening.

Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.