Steve McQueen races through San Francisco in ‘Bullitt’

Steve McQueen in "Bullitt"Although Steve  McQueen is undoubtedly the star of 1968’s “Bullitt,” his unofficial co-star was the “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang that McQueen drove throughout the Peter Yates directed cop thriller being broadcast on  Saturday, February 6th, 5pm pst on Turner Classic Movies. San Francisco has been used as a  backdrop for many motion pictures, but no film would ever make better use of the  city’s dramatic landscape, or have such a profound influence on future  productions. McQueen’s human co-stars in “Bullitt” include Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, and Simon Oakland, and the film would go on to win an Academy  Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller).

The story places McQueen’s character, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, heading a  police unit in charge of protecting a key witness in an upcoming mafia trial.  When the witness and both of Bullitt’s co-workers are killed, Lieutenant Bullitt  starts an investigation of his own, hoping to solve the murders of his partners,  as well as determine the true identity of the slain witness. While leaving a  hotel on the San Francisco peninsula, Bullitt realizes he is being tailed by two  hit-men, driving a black 1968 Dodge Charger. Bullitt turns the tables on the  men, becomes the pursuer, and touches off one of the best car chases in motion  picture history, taking up ten minutes of screen time. McQueen, who had  distinguished himself a few years earlier riding a motorcycle in “The Great Escape,” demonstrates similar skills while flying  his Mustang through the roller-coaster like streets of San Francisco.

The success of “Bullitt” would spawn a slew of imitators, and soon, car  chases would become a familiar element in cop films, most notably “The French Connection.” Long time Northern California  residents will appreciate getting to see much of what the Bay Area looked like  over 40 years ago, including San Francisco International Airport, and Millbrae’s  Thunderbird Hotel (now the Clarion) in all of it’s 1968 glory. Also not to be  missed is an appearance by a then unknown Robert Duval as a cab  driver.