Three Decades of Watching “Bullitt”

A Little Bedtime Entertainment - Nov 1, 2003

A Little Bedtime Entertainment – Nov 1, 2003

Early in life, David showed an interest in fast-moving objects.

Trains and cars on TV stopped him cold. He would always calm down when in a moving car; in fact, I often had to drive him around in the truck at bedtime so he would fall asleep. Our “Night Drives” were a precursor of outings to “go see Night Trains.” Movement and mechanicals have always figured highly in his character. So it was no surprise to me when I saw him in 2003, watching what is arguably one of the best car-chase movies of all time.

The film was Bullitt from 1968, starring Steve McQueen.

David was not quite two years old when I took this picture, watching as Lt. Bullitt is eyeballing a car driven by two hit men who have been following him around San Francisco. Aside from being filmed “at speed,” meaning the scenes were not artificially sped up to mimic fast driving, the chase also pitted the Ford Mustang against the Dodge Charger – two hugely popular muscle cars of the day. The movie is also notable for having a single swear word, uttered near the end of the movie – and almost unheard of in film making from the 1960s.

Forty-some-odd years later, Bullitt is still a thrill.

I would only allow David to watch that eight-minute car chase, minus the flaming explosion at the end that showed burning bodies in graphic detail. The rest of the film would have been too boring for a toddler anyway. He soaked it up every time, occasionally asking to see it again.

I can totally relate to his interest.

The first time I saw Bullitt, I was nine or ten years old. It was riveting, and a staple of weekend evening movie shows on network TV. I learned more about the movie in a high school Film Study class. My friend Bill Hemmen recorded it with his parents’ massive video tape machine that sat on top of their console TV, and we watched it countless times. In 1994, the stunning Mrs. Clark bought me a Laserdisc player for my 30th birthday; Bullitt was one of the first discs we bought. Not long after we bought our first DVD player, we also bought a copy of Bullitt. It was replaced later with an anniversary edition that had background programs and an interview with Chad McQueen talking about – and crying on camera about his Dad Steve. It’s very clear that he loved him.

Watching Bullitt – over and over for three decades – means that I can quote virtually every line of dialogue, find every foible, and ID every car. Regardless, it’s a movie I will continue to watch so long as I can hold a shifter in my hand. Thanks to an excited younger generation, I will always have someone to share the popcorn.