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.