Home > Films > B > Bullitt

Thursday December 13th 2018

Bullitt | 1968

Bullitt location: Taylor Street, San Francisco<
Bullitt location: Frank Bullitt’s apartment: Taylor Street, San Francisco

Brit director Peter Yates set the industry standard for car chases in this San Francisco based police actioner.

The brief prologue is set in Chicago with the briefest establishing shot of the Chicago Sun Times Building and the Marina City Towers – though the action itself was, like the rest of the movie, filmed in San Francisco.

Detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) has to track down a hit squad before the fact leaks out that their target, prize witness Johnnie Ross, has already been offed.

Bullitt location: Mark Hopkins Hotel, 1 Nob Hill, San Francisco<
Bullitt location: Ross is spotted in the hotel lobby: Mark Hopkins Hotel, 1 Nob Hill, San Francisco

The doomed informant Ross is first spotted by the baddies in the lobby of the de-luxe InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, 999 California Street atop Nob Hill.

This grand San Francisco institution, built on the site of what was once one of the city’s most prestigious mansions, is also featured in Harold Robbins’ 1978 motor industry potboiler The Betsy and 1969 shocker Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting.

The hotel stands alongside two other cinematic landmarks: the Fairmont Hotel (The Rock; Family Plot) and the Brocklebank Apartments (Vertigo; The Woman In Red).

It’s downhill for Ross from here: the rather less grand 'Daniels Hotel' in which he's installed for his safety stood on Embarcadero, at Howard Street opposite Pier 18 beneath the foot of the double-deck Oakland Bay Bridge. The whole area has since been massively redeveloped and both the hotel and pier are gone.

Bullitt location: Clay Street, San Francisco<
Bullitt location: Bullitt stocks up on TV dinners: VJ Groceries, Clay Street, San Francisco

You can see Bullitt’s apartment, unchanged, at 1153-1157 Taylor Street, a stylish 1906 three-story frame building at the corner of Clay Street. And across the road you can still shop at VJ Groceries, where loner Bullitt stocks up on TV dinners.

Bullitt does chill out with girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) in the jazzy ambience of what was the groovy Coffee Cantata but has since been revamped to become Mexican restaurant Flores, 2030 Union Street at Buchanan Street in Cow Hollow.

Bullitt location: Vallejo Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco
Bullitt location: Chalmers' mansion: Vallejo Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco

The lavish mansion of oily and ambitious politician Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), who’s staking his career on producing the star witness, is 2700 Vallejo Street at Divisadero in swanky Pacific Heights. This is a wealthy but, on-screen at least, dubious neighbourhood – 2930 was home to writer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct, while corner-cutting electrician Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) lived at 2898 in The Towering Inferno. The beautiful topiary – and the Red Sun flag – might give you a clue that 2700 is now home to the Japanese Consul General.

Bullitt location: Grace Cathedral, Taylor Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: Chalmers serves a writ on the police chief: Grace Cathedral, Taylor Street, San Francisco

When Ross appears to have gone AWOL, Chalmers serves a writ of habeas corpus on the police chief Bennet (Simon Oakland, famous as the psychiatrist who explains Norman Bates’ little problem at the end of Psycho), on the terrace at Grace Cathedral, 1051 Taylor Street, a couple of blocks south of Bullitt’s home. The 1964 Cathedral is where the bishop is kidnapped in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot, and is used for the christening of Dan White's son in Gus Van Sant's Milk.

By the way, that art deco mural in the background is the Masons Grand Lodge of California building.

During his investigations, Bullitt drives along Broadway past the incredibly photogenic spot at Taylor Street which looks down to the Bay Bridge – site of the streetcar accident in The Princess Diaries and the final shot of The Pursuit Of Happyness, with Will Smith.

Bullitt location: Enrico's, Broadway at Kearny Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: Bullitt meets the informant: Enrico's, Broadway at Kearny Street, San Francisco

The bar where Bullitt meets up with informant Eddie to get info on the ‘Chicago’ organisation, finally closed its doors in 2006 after almost 50 years of business. It was Enrico’s, 504 Broadway at the corner of the steep stretch of Kearny Street featured in Basic Instinct and in 1947 film noir Dark Passage. The famous sign remains for the present, but restaurant Naked Lunch now occupies the premises.

Bullitt location: Broadway at Kearny Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: Bullitt talks to informant Eddie: Little Szechuan, Broadway at Kearny Street, San Francisco

He chats to Eddie on the opposite corner of Broadway and Kearny, outside what is no longer a strip joint but a respectable Chinese restaurant called Little Szechuan.

Cab driver Weissberg (Robert Duvall) obligingly takes Bullitt to all the stops made earlier by Ross before dropping him off at the ‘Sunshine Cab Co’ south of the Mission district near to that wonderfully 50s Googie-style carwash. There’s still a carwash at 2560 Marin Street at Bayshore Boulevard beneath the supports of Hwy 101, but sadly the fab design has long gone.

Bullitt clocks the two shady-looking guys in the black ’68 Dodge Charger parking up under the elevated freeway and decides this is a good time to discreetly fasten his safety belt.

The rightly celebrated chase which follows makes no sense geographically but unless you’re a Bay City native quietly tutting at the liberties taken, who cares?

The sequences roughly divides up into three sections: the slow, careful build-up south of Mission, the spectacular hill bouncing in North Beach and the final headlong rush along the freeway a few miles south of the city.

Bullitt eases out of the parking lot north of the carwash and turns south on Bayshore, quietly followed by the impassive pair in the Charger.

A few blocks west Bullitt, now driving north on Cesar Chavez Street, performs a surprise u-turn by the striking triangular service station at the junction with Precita Avenue, suddenly turning south up York Street.

The pursuers follow but coming to Peralta Avenue find the Mustang has disappeared. Negotiating the slight kink at Peralta, they continue up York.

About seven blocks north on Kansas Street crossing 20th Street at the peak of Potrero Hill, they’re rattled to see Bullitt’s Mustang appear in the rearview mirror and they're now the ones being tailed.

Bullitt location: Filbert Street, North Beach, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the Mustang now follows the Charger: east on Filbert Street, North Beach, San Francisco

This is where there’s a huge jump across the city to North Beach with Bullitt now following the Charger east on Filbert Street at Taylor Street towards the twin spires of Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral (familiar from Dirty Harry) and Coit Tower (Vertigo and Doctor Dolittle), pausing for a couple of cable cars at Mason Street.

The slow, relentless tension is cranked up as the cars turn left from Filbert into the wide stretch of Columbus Avenue for a couple of blocks.

Bullitt location: Columbus Avenue at Chestnut Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the Charger suddenly takes off and the chase begins: Columbus Avenue at Chestnut Street, San Francisco

Now it's the turn of the bad guys to quietly buckle up before taking off with a sudden sharp left up Chestnut Street in front of the venerable Bimbo’s 365 Club, announcing the high-speed section of the chase.

Bimbo, by the way, also supplied the interior of the French restaurant kitchen where Donald Sutherland discovers a rat turd – or a caper – in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Bullitt location: Taylor Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the chase down the hills: Taylor Street, San Francisco

For a brief second there’s a brief shot inserted of the cars screeching round the corner of Kansas and 20th back at Potrero Hill, before the first great scene of both motors bouncing recklessly down the steep Taylor Street from Vallejo Street across Green and Union Streets.

Bullitt location: Taylor Street at Filbert Street, North Beach, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the cars swing left at the bottom of the hill: Taylor Street west onto Filbert Street, North Beach, San Francisco

At the foot of the hill they make a smart left onto Filbert again (but this time in the opposite direction, away from Sts Peter and Paul).

Bullitt location: Taylor Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the chase down the hills, from the lower viewpoint: Taylor Street, San Francisco

Like an instant replay, they're once again testing the limits of 1960s suspension down the same stretch of Taylor Street, seen this time from the lower viewpoint. It’s cheating but who cares? it is stunning.

Bullitt location: Larkin at Francisco Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the Charger loses a hubcap: Larkin at Francisco Street, San Francisco

Several blocks northwest, they career north along Larkin Street to the sharp bend where Larkin becomes Francisco Street, scraping the wall and the Charger losing a hubcap.

Bullitt location: Larkin at Francisco Street, San Francisco
Bullitt location: the Charger loses a hubcap: Larkin at Francisco Street, San Francisco

They roar west on Francisco Street before magically reappearing a few miles south of the city for the final section on Guadelupe Canyon Parkway heading toward the suburb of Brisbane. There’s some to-ing and fro-ing on the Parkway before the Charger smashes into a gas station near the junction with North Hill Drive and is consumed in a ball of flames.

Following a lead, Bullitt and Cathy head out to ‘San Mateo’ and the ‘Thunderbolt Motel’ only to discover that the Miss Simmons they wanted to talk to has been strangled. The motel was the recently-closed Clarion Hotel, 401 East Millbrae Avenue just east of the 101 in Millbrae.

Putting the pieces together, Frank Bullitt makes a dash to prevent the real Ross from leaving the country from San Francisco International Airport, where the final shootout takes place.