Friday, February 23, 2018

Favorite Scene Friday! Bullitt: Just Keep Driving

Steve McQueen is the actor-of-the-month over at the LAMB, so I'm taking a moment to celebrate one of the best moments from one of his less good movies. Bullitt isn't terrible, but if it wasn't for the central chase sequence I don't think many people would discuss it today, so you can be damn sure that's the scene in question this week.
Bullitt painting by Arthur Benjamins
If you're unfamiliar with the plot, I'll take a stab at it: Steve McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco Police Department. He is tasked with protecting a star witness over the weekend, but events occur that require said witness to be hidden somewhere, with only Frank and his team knowing the location. As such, a couple of men (seen in the clip, known to me as "Stern Face" and "Glasses") are sent to follow Frank to see where he goes, in the hope that it'll lead to the witness' whereabouts. This is what happens next:

I only really want to follow on that first segment as being the best scene, as the entire chase goes on for at least another 7 minutes, but for the sake of not depriving you here's the rest of it too:

OK, now you've got that out of your system (did you count the hub-caps? Go back and count the hub-caps) let's get back to that first segment. The key moment occurs at 2:14, when Frank, having quite easily slipped his tail, appears in their rear-view mirror, turning the tables and making the hunters the hunted. It's an ingenious and wonderful manoeuvre, and is filmed beautifully, with the camera in the back seat of the villains' car, the mirror nonchalantly positioned in the centre - because that's where it would be anyway, given we're looking out the windscreen with them for Frank's car - and then it just appears in the mirror, popping up and saying "Gotcha!". I think the zoom in goes a little too far to accentuate the reveal, but only a little.

The whole chase uses the streets and hills of San Francisco perfectly, weaving in and out of traffic, utilising the sharp right angle corners to crash and screech all over the road, all the while tormenting those roaring, guttural engines and trashing the chassis on the bumps. The entire scene has no dialogue, it's all about the concentrated expressions and wheelmanship on display.

I'd argue it amongst the best car chases of all time - I previously looked at another contender from The French Connection - but this might just beat it, at least in terms of longevity. I like the temporary satisfied smirk Glasses gives to Stern Face when he thinks they've gotten away, when Frank stopped to check a crashed motorcyclist was alright. I love the use of the mirror outside of the reveal too, allowing us to see the face of the driver and/or passenger as well as the road ahead, just perfect.

What's your favorite movie car chase?

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