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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Detective > Crime > Drama > Bullitt + The Getaway (1972/HD-DVDs)

Bullitt + The Getaway (1972) HD-DVDs


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Films: B



Two of Steve McQueen’s biggest action hits happened at very opportune times in the action genre and helped make it full-fledged and possible.  As Dirty Harry was still in turn-around with the likes of Frank Sinatra and John Wayne attached to it, Sean Connery had just left the Bond series for the first time and the British director Peter Yates delivered Bullitt in its time, it was a groundbreaking detective film just within the genre itself as Frank Bullitt needs to find out who killed a star witness.


Of course, there are a few people who want Frank dead, which culminated into one of the greatest car chases in cinema history where Frank breaks the record for upshifting his Ford Mustang gearbox.  However, the film itself holds up very well thanks to the intelligent Alan B. Trustman/Harry Kleiner screenplay (from Robert L. Pike’s book Mute Witness), Yates masterful directing (see the underrated Suspect (1985) if you think that’s a fluke), Lalo Schifrin score, William A. Fraker’s great cinematography (made around the time he shot Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby) and a great cast that includes Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Don Gordon, Norman Fell, Simon Oakland, Vic Tayback, Georg Stanford Brown and two future female stars in uncredited appearances: Joanna Cassidy and Suzanne Somers.  No wonder it’s a classic.


While the film remained a favorite, Dirty Harry was finally made by Don Siegel with Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery made one more appearance as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, McQueen knew the competition was in good running with him.  When he got his hands on Walter Hill’s screenplay based on Jim Thompson’s novel for The Getaway, he knew he had to make it and turned to his old friend Sam Peckinpah to direct.  So picky was he that though Peckinpah’s longtime composer (the great) Jerry Fielding did an entire score, McQueen was so concerned about sounding or being predictable that he had the score replaced with one by Quincy Jones with more of a Jazz/Pop approach likely with Schifrin’s successful work at the time in mind.


This time, he plays master thief Don McCoy, whose wife (Ali McGraw) has literally slept with a prison warden to get him out of the slammer earlier than would have otherwise happened.  He is going to pull of a big heist with her and hopefully be set for good, but some bad foresight, backstabbing and other interferences all get in the way and the race is on to steal and survive.  Despite the loss of Fielding’s fine score, the film was a hit and McQueen’s gamble on Jones paid off.


This time, the cast included great performances from Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Bo Hopkins and Slim Pickens, but what looked like a continuation of a big action film career was not to be.  McQueen tried serious dramas, a disaster cycle blockbuster that was a big hit, then became ill and died of lung cancer by 1980.  Eastwood and Burt Reynolds overtook him as the top box office star, Roger Moore successfully became a hit as James Bond and his reign as the coolest star around ended.


It is great that Warner has wisely issued these classic back catalog titles early on in HD-DVD, which we are covering here, plus Blu-rays as they cover both formats.  They are here in all their special edition glory and instantly become two of the most desired classic action titles around.  So how do they perform?


Both are 1080p digital High Definition presentations, with Bullitt in the flat 1.85 X 1 widescreen frame and The Getaway in the 2.35 X 1 scope frame, despite the case misidentifying it as 1.85 X 1 as well.  Both films at the time were issued at their best in the great three-strip dye-transfer (IB/imbibition) Technicolor process, which guaranteed very little grain, vibrant colors, depth, detail and warmth that is only sometimes visible on these copies.


There are moments that are soft, but the issues with softness and detail are not as much as an issue as they were with the HD-DVD of The Dirty Dozen and certainly not the problem it was on the HD-DVD of Blazing Saddles (both reviewed elsewhere on this site) and their Blu-ray counterparts.  Director Of Photography Lucien Ballard (Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing) shot The Getaway in Todd-AO 35, a great anamorphic scope format (1971 – 1984) also used on memorable films like Logan’s Run, Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, Slaughter, Day Of The Animals, Slaughter’s Big Ripoff, Junior Bonner with McQueen, the original Mad Max, first Conan The Barbarian, Flash Gordon (1980) and David Lynch’s Dune.  Following the Lynch film only on HD-DVD (and reviewed elsewhere on this site), The Getaway is the second Todd-AO 35 film in the format and the first in Blu-ray.  Even with print issues, especially in the darker scenes and their failure to sometimes resolve detail, these look better than they have in a long time.  Too bad Warner did not have real Technicolor prints available to go by.  Wonder where the negative materials are or if real Technicolor prints are in the vault?


For fans of widescreen films, seeing The Getaway in Todd-AO 35 will be a revelation since the format was so good.  This is big screen filmmaking, not to sell Bullitt short, but it sure beats HD shoots and the usually generic Super 35 shooting we get today.


The sound on Bullitt is Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Stereo, but to my shock, it is still the older Chace Stereo upgrade form years ago they have been using on home video since the film arrived on VHS.  This is better than 1.0 Mono, but with the master tapes of Schifrin’s score in stereo at least (?) and 5.1 channels now available, this film deserves a 5.1 upgrade, even if this 2.0 Stereo and older 1.0 Mono tracks were also available.  The car chase would even be more exciting and if you do not believe me, just listen to the 5.1 upgrade on the DTS DVD of the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (in the Ultimate Collection Volume Three reviewed elsewhere on this site with the other three sets) and specifically the toboggan chase towards the end of the film.  The car chase here could and should be that amazing.  Otherwise, dialogue is not bad for its age and sound effects hold up well enough.  The Getaway is in Dolby Digital Plus 1.0 Mono and has the original optical theatrical sound, but Jones’ score is nowhere to be found in stereo either?  The Fielding score was.


Extras are many for both films, with both offering trailers, and The Getaway has an entire Peckinpah Trailer Gallery.  Bullitt also includes a fine full-length audio commentary by Yates, vintage Bullitt: Steve McQueen’s Commitment To Reality featurette and two new featurettes:  Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool and The Cutting Edge: The Magic Of Movie Editing in 1080p HD and 5.1 Dolby.  The Getaway additionally offers four Peckinpah scholars (Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle) doing a solid feature length audio commentary, new featurette Main Title 1M1 - Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah & The Getaway, “Virtual” Reel 1 commentary by McQueen, MacGraw and Peckinpah, Reel 4 Bank Robbery Sequence with Fielding’s alternate score and Fielding’s score in audio-only form.  Both are archival for all intents and purposes.


The entire Jerry Fielding Getaway score did arrive as a limited edition CD/DVD set from Film Score Monthly’s FSM Soundtrack label, which we reviewed a while ago:





It includes the Main Title 1M1 featurette on the bonus DVD (where it apparently debuted) and the score in PCM 2.0 16-bit/44.1kHz Stereo that sounds better than the Dolby Digital version on this HD-DVD.  It is limited to only 3,000 copies, has a great booklet this version does not and audiophiles will want to own it especially.  See the review for more details.


A respectable remake of The Getaway was made by Roger Donaldson (The World’s Fastest Indian) in 1994 with Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin in the MacGraw and McQueen roles that worked very well, using the same screenplay, while Bullitt’s car chase is one of the most imitated and copied moments in film (and TV) history.


However, these are the original classics and they have been done up nicely for the most part.  Both are a must for any serious HD film collection.


For more on the 1994 remake of The Getaway, try this link for the HD-DVD:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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