If you love movies, cars and Steve McQueen then you've seen Bullitt, most likely multiple times. And if you haven't, then shame on you, your credentials are quite suspect.
Released 51 years ago on October 17, 1968 by Warner Brothers-Seven Arts (as the studio was called then), Bullitt is justly famous for its wild (and geographically impossible) car chase involving the now-legendary Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang and a menacing black 1968 Dodge Charger through the streets of San Francisco and outlying areas but there's much more to appreciate about a film that captures cool on so many levels.
The Main Title Sequence: This is, in the opinion of yours truly (and I am always right, except when wrong), the coolest title sequence ever done. Created by Pablo Ferro, it is a stunning visual presentation that incorporates sliding text, which leaves 'text holes' as each name slides off the screen and gorgeous lighting all while giving you the backstory for the story to follow. Almost everything you need to know about the plot is contained in the title sequence. You can view the entire sequence on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=S__L_OQe6NE). An entire dissertation on this sequence can be found at Bright Lights Film Journal: brightlightsfilm.com/pablo-ferros-title-montage-bullitt-1968-criminality-beneath-surface-civil-society/#.XcvwM797lTY.
The Score: Sometimes a score can be an annoyance. In the best movies the score becomes an essential part of the story, supporting the action in a way that if the music was taken away the scenes would be diminished. Composed by Lalo Schifrin, the jazzy score of Bullitt is, like many of Schifrin's scores, driven by an incredibly strong bass line and horns (listen to it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUo9ogmtBoU). Not only is the title sequence enhanced by the score, so are key scenes. When the white haired hit man enters the hospital to finish off Ross, the entire scene is backed up by the portions of the track that names him, 'Ice Pick Mike', played by Paul Genge (1913-1988) (the full track can be heard here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPi8Sgqe-U0). It conveys a sense of threat that perfectly fits the scene. But the pinnacle of the film score supports its most famous sequence. The track 'Shifting Gears' sets up the car chase from its initial cat and mouse of the Charger following the Mustang, to the switch when Bullitt ghosts them and then comes up in the Charger's rear view mirror and then the score stops when both cars let loose in a smoke filled haze of burnouts (interesting aside: neither of the cars had positraction. The camera captures the cars laying down a single track of rubber). Lalo Schifrin had a prolific Hollywood career, scoring among others Cool Hand Luke (1967), Dirty Harry (1971), the Mission Impossible theme (1966-1973) and Mannix (1967-1975). He's still alive and kicking today at age 87.
The Acting: The acting in Bullitt is incredibly restrained and low key. There are no histrionics, no raised voices, no grand movements, except a brief eruption from a very young Jacqueline Bisset (fun fact: her real first name is Winifred), but she's gorgeous so it's ok. Everything is held back, which only lends to the tension. If there was a textbook for teaching cool, the acting styles in Bullitt would be right there at the top of the subject matter. Although Bullitt is not a film noir, the terse dialogue style is very similar to classic noirs like The Killing (1946). There are no wasted motions in Bullitt.
The Drivers: The dark haired hitman in Bullitt who wheels the Charger is named as Phil in histories of the film, but is never called that on screen. The role was played by legendary stunt man and stunt driver Bill Hickman (1921-1986). Hickman had a long career in Hollywood, working on The Wild One (1953) starring Marlon Brando, The French Connection (1971), in which he did the driving in that film's wild chase sequence under the New York els, the Seven Ups (1973), which had another crazy chase sequence that ends in decapitation and even Patton (1971) as Patton's Jeep driver in addition to acting in nearly 50 films overall. McQueen did his own driving in close-ups, but the high speed driving of the two Mustangs used in the filming was split between stunt coordinator Carey Loftin, stuntman and motorcycle racer Bud Ekins, and McQueen's usual stunt driver, Loren Janes. The tell for who is driving the Mustang during any given frame is if the rear view mirror is visible, McQueen is driving. If the mirror is not visible, the stuntmen were behind the wheel.
The City: In 1967-1968, normal people could afford to live in San Francisco and the city wasn't littered with used syringes and human waste as it is today. It's a snapshot of a city that no longer exists. IMDb has a wonderful gallery of behind the scene photos and clips from the film (www.imdb.com/title/tt0062765/mediaindex?page=1&ref_=ttmi_mi_sm) and Movie Locations.com has great pics of the still-existing locations used in the film (www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/Bullitt.php).