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Bullitt, Archer, and the Best Car Chase of All Time

July 8th, 2016 by Jordan Plaut

Our first stop on the Hulu Summer Road Trip is the city of San Francisco and a screening of the 1968 classic crime thriller Bullitt starring Steve McQueen. The movie has become iconic for two main reasons – one of the greatest car chases of all time, and McQueen’s unintentionally stylish wardrobe.

There are few crime thrillers better than the 1968 Steve McQueen gem, Bullitt. In the film, directed by Peter Yates, McQueen plays a hard-nosed San Francisco police lieutenant named Frank – you guessed it – Bullitt, who is assigned to protect a local mob informant set to testify against some folks who would prefer he keep his mouth shut. As in any and all crime thrillers, the initial plan goes awry and Bullitt has just a few days to figure out how it all could have gone so wrong. In that time we get to see why “there are bad cops and there are good cops – and then there’s Bullitt.”

Bullitt makes for such an entertaining and enthralling film in large part due to an action-packed muscle car chase through the mean streets of San Francisco. More specifically, a chase between some baddies in a 1968 Dodge Charger and Bullitt in his now-iconic green 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback. How iconic has that Fastback become? Enough to warrant a whole tribute episode in the hit FX series “Archer.” Bullitt’s Mustang just happens to be the same color and model as Lana Kane’s father’s in Season 6 Episode 8 of “Archer.”

Meep! Is that a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback?

If you’ve seen Archer at all, you know that Sterling Archer is Steve McQueen obsessed. His favorite article of clothing is one of his numerous black mock turtlenecks inspired by the actor in this very movie. It makes sense, then, that a show bursting with McQueen references would go for an overt homage to Bullitt by recreating arguably one of the greatest car chase scenes at work in cinema history. In the episode titled “The Kanes,” when Archer first spots the Mustang in his would-be in-laws’ garage, he understandably “meeps” with pure, unbridled joy. The chase that follows fulfills Archer’s number one dream (other than rocking out to “Danger Zone” with Kenny Loggins), which makes perfect sense since in both Archer’s world and the world of Bullitt, everything that can work does work – even if it shouldn’t. That includes the loud roars from the muscled-up engines, the unfiltered camera work, the airborne cars, and the route that makes no logistical sense (thank you, film editors). And, of course, McQueen’s “Archer” turtleneck – which he totally pulls off.

While the “Archer” chase is not a shot-for-shot recreation of the one from the film, there are plenty of striking similarities. The cab that brings Archer and Lana from the airport, for example, looks eerily similar to one that (a pre-Godfather!) Robert Duvall uses to transport the witness. There’s also a green VW Bug that shows up a few times (rather inexplicably) during the Bullitt car chase and, wouldn’t you know it, it shows up multiple times in Archer as well.

The episode takes quite a turn from the film plot, however, in that the CIA’s Slater (aka the voice of the actual Christian Slater) ends up being behind the whole plot. Lana’s father, a Ph.D at U.C. Berkeley, had been conducting energy research – research that could jeopardize the national security of the US if oil in the Middle East suddenly lost its value. As compensation, Dr. Kane receives a large, undisclosed amount of money that will be deposited directly into his bank account each month for the rest of his life, and he readily accepts.

That’s a cynical ending that Frank Bullitt might not condone, but at least he can take joy in still dominating the best car chase of all time. And unequivocally rocking that mock turtle neck.

McQueen, rocking that mock turtle neck unequivocally

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