If you started reading that headline and thought “wait a minute, why did he misspell ‘bullet?'” It’s because I’m talking about the other Bullitt, the title character to the film “Bullitt,” which captivated moviegoers in the late ’60s and has been an object of car enthusiasts’ praise ever since. Recently, Adam B. Vary reported for Variety that Steven Spielberg is developing an original Frank Bullitt movie. Thank God.
My thanks are simply based on the fact that this will be an original film, not a stupid reboot. And I think there’s a lot of potential in it, too.
First off, the screenwriter who’s been named to write the thing has solid chops in writing dramatic period pieces. Then, there’s always value in doing period pieces, which Spielberg tends to have on lockdown. Finally, it could lend well to having a small-or-large, yet significant amount of vehicular action.
Like I mentioned about Bullitt being the object of auto enthusiasts’ praise, it seems like that’s dying out. My sub-65-year-old automotive media colleagues tend to sway towards the opinion of “this movie is boring and came out in 1968. Who, in this day and age, cares?” I certainly get that and am probably in the minority of people who were shown Bullitt and many other ’60s and ’70s action films at a young age. My parents raised me to be a film nerd as much as a gearhead.
The thing about the original “Bullitt” movie is, you need to appreciate its various aspects to truly dig it. It’s a gritty crime drama with excellent camera work, which takes a mild peek into ’60s San Francisco’s seedy underbelly, and includes a wide range of forces working against the title character. It also has very little actual dialogue but makes up for that with one of the best film soundtracks ever, as well as the aforementioned beautiful camera work. Plus, there’s an element of defiance that I think everyone picks up on and appreciates in one way or another. In fact, part of the way this shows up in the script caused a major stir back in the day. Who knew “bullshit” was such a nasty word on screen decades ago?
And then, there’s the car chase scene, which was the first of its kind, and legendary in its depth and risk. I mean, c’mon: Steve McQueen did most if not all of his own driving, at very high speed, on SF streets, on tire technology from the 1960s. If you research how long it took to plan and film not only the famous “Bullitt” chase, but also the ones in “The Seven Ups,” “The French Connection,” and “To Live And Die in L.A.,” it’ll make you appreciate how extensive and good they were for their eras.
If a new film that debuts in, say, 2023 or 2024, can encapsulate all of that, it’s already off to a solid start. Whether it’s a prequel, or really any chapter based from the life of a stern, stylish, and clever detective working in ’60s SF. The person who’s set to write the screenplay, Josh Singer, could definitely pull this off, as his writing credits are quite solid. This cat co-wrote on “Spotlight,” which currently retains a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and received a bunch of prestigious nominations. In a quick sentence, it’s a film about the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight Team,” which is one of the world’s oldest investigative journalist units.
Steven Spielberg is a master of period pieces from almost every era since the turn of the century, so he could pull it off. Hell, even “1941“, while poorly received, did a great job framing late-’70s Southern California back to the early ’40s. If he can get a director of photography on board who can mimic the brilliant camera work by William Fraker in “Bullitt,” and do everything possible to make late ’60s SF as much of a visual character as the cast, this film could be a winner. And with as little CGI as possible, please. Our old silver screen friend 35mm could be put to very good use here. Hey, whattaya know, Spielberg’s recent and well-received 2021 remake of “West Side Story” was shot on that!
Furthermore, while I’m completely unfamiliar with any potential Hollywood drama and cliquery, it’d be so cool if he could enlist Michael Mann in some capacity. Mann’s the true master of cinematic crime dramas, and seeing them together as a dream team would be epic. While I don’t have any hard proof, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mann references “Bullitt” as some of his career inspiration. I realize this combo is probably more realistic as a daydream, what-if scenario… but hey, a guy can dream.
Last but not least, how much of a role would cars play in a new film about Frank Bullitt? I think following the original film’s recipe would be a solid move: fairly brief in the film’s total runtime, but immensely noteworthy. Or, actually, bolstering the automotive aspect and writing him in as more of a gearhead and potential amateur race car driver could be cool, too, if written right.
The car casting would depend on which chapter of Bullitt’s life it’d take place during. If it’s eight years before the 1968 film takes place, then something that’s on-brand for someone who wheels a Ford Mustang GT, before the Mustang even debuted, would be crucial. Maybe a Chevy Impala with the 348 in it? Or, what about a mildly tuned Chevy Corvair Monza? Those were raced back in the day (here’s one in a more recent historics race), and are proper cool in my book. Frank Bullitt can wheel, so I could totally see a younger Frank Bullitt, who’s living on a smaller city cop salary, into having fun with a Monza.
Or hell, what about a Porsche 356? Bullitt would certainly own one (McQueen did in real life), a yellow Speedster makes an appearance in Bullitt, and it’d just be epically cool to see one wheeled around in a chase of some sort through the streets of San Francisco, jazzy soundtrack and all. As far as affording a German sports car on a cop’s salary, that might be harder to legitimize… maybe include that he comes from a wealthy, politically connected family or something. Which would actually track with his initial compliance, but ultimate defiance, of authority and political bullshit in “Bullitt.”
Daydreams and chin-stroking aside, I think there’s solid potential in a new film that encapsulates the character Frank Bullitt. Thank the Lord it’s not a reboot. Plus, enlisting the genius of Josh Singer helps ensure it will in no way whatsoever resemble a cheesy Marvel movie. I know that’s very unlikely regardless, but considering what we’ve seen Hollywood is capable of, you never know. Everyone loves a period piece, and well-written crime dramas are always a solid choice. I’m excited for, if indeed this film is greenlit, what Spielberg comes up with.
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