Friday, April 11, 2014



I woke up this morning prepared for another day of exquisite languor in my boudoir, waiting for my fractured femur to finish mending. The morning sun felt warm against my skin, protected by PABA Free Lesterene brand Lime in the Coconut oil sunscreen, as I looked forward to a breakfast tray. Doreen, my poor white trash relative and current caregiver did eventually show up with a bowl of Fruit Loops and a glass of Tang, better than the grits she's been foisting off on my recently, and then disappeared back downstairs. Her husband, Herbert, has departed again in that tin box with a motor they call an RV so it's been quiet downstairs.

Reynaldo, my gardener, showed up soon thereafter and I could hear him clipping the hedges for a bit. He seemed to tire fairly suddenly and disappeared into the house, I assume to work on the house plants. The ficus trees had been looking a little brown last time I was downstairs to look at the living room terrarium. The terrarium was an idea of Norman's - It's a large glass enclosure in the living room full of living green things and a couple of iguanas left over from my successful backstage musical Beach Blanket Burton, based on the filming of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana, which ran successfully at the Pasadena Playhouse some years ago.

Soon, Herbert returned at breakneck speed up the drive in the RV and parked it in the middle of the croquet lawn and ran into the house. A few minutes later, Reynaldo was running for his truck, taking off full throttle with Herbert right behind in the RV. The speed at which they took the corner of the drive reminded me of another famous car chase so I got out the DVD of the 1968 Peter Yates film, Bullitt, to entertain myself for the rest of the morning.

Bullitt stars Steve McQueen as San Francisco police detective Frank Bullitt, a no-nonsense hard-nosed cop who puts his need to do the job properly over politics and inter-personal relationships. In some ways, the film is a bookend with Don Siegel's contemporaneous Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood. Both feature San Francisco detectives working through their own code of ethics rather than the rules, ex-TV cowboy stars, and use of the city of San Francisco as a character in the story. However, while Eastwood's Harry Callahan is a reactionary statement against the excesses of the 60s, McQueen's Frank Bullitt is much more the need of the 60s to question the old order.

The plot of Bullitt isn't much. In many ways, the film plays like a long episode of one of those Quinn Martin produced cop shows of the 60s and early 70s. I kept expecting little subtitles to read 'Act I', 'Act II' ad nauseam. Detective Bullitt and his team are assigned to protect a witness needed by a repellent senator (Robert Vaughn) for a hearing into organized crime. The witness is kept by the police in a hidden location but somebody spills the beans and goons arrive and blow him away and injure Bullitt's buddy. The senator blames Bullitt for muffing the operation and tries to get the forces of the police department (represented by familiar character actors Norman Fell and Simon Oakland) to land on him. Bullitt bucks authority to get to the bottom of the mystery, eventually getting involved in the famous car chase. The villain is ultimately tracked to the airport and the inevitable show-down occurs. In the meantime, Bullitt is having woman trouble (in the form of a wasted Jacqueline Bissett - she has little to do other than look pained for her man).

Bullitt was directed by Hollywood veteran Peter Yates, a Britisher not known for his style or his verve, but rather for delivering journeyman craftsmanship. There is little about Bullitt that's inspiring with the exception of one sequence. That one sequence is the famous car chase where our hero, in a Mustang, chases a couple of villains driving a Dodge Charger through the streets of San Francisco. The chase is geographically ridiculous (cutting from Nob Hill to the Marina Green to the San Bruno mountains as if they are next to each other); slow paced, by current standards; and features the same green VW bug being passed at least four times. However, despite all this, the editing, choice of shots, and Steve McQueen's intense performance still give it an adrenaline rush.

Steve McQueen gives a tense performance in the central role. One feels that there are many springs coiled inside him and one false move could send them exploding all over the screen. He makes the film work. Most of the other performances are not worth noting. They're strictly TV movie of the week sort of stuff, although Robert Vaughn does have a couple of nice moments as the nasty senator.

The DVD is a bare bones release. There are some production notes, cast bios, and theatrical trailers. There are no commentary tracks, cut scenes or major extras other than a period short documentary on Steve McQueen and his preparation for the role.

Oily senator. Officious police captain. Doctor collusion. Nob Hill car jumping. Russian Hill car jumping. Potrero Hill car jumping. Gratuitous Vic Tayback. Dead blonde. Airport shoot out.

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