Film poster by Michel Landi
|Directed by||Peter Yates|
|Produced by||Philip D'Antoni|
|Screenplay by||Alan R. Trustman|
|Based on||Mute Witness|
by Robert L. Fish
|Music by||Lalo Schifrin|
|Cinematography||William A. Fraker|
|Edited by||Frank P. Keller|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.-Seven Arts|
|Box office||$42.3 million|
Bullitt is a 1968 American thriller film directed by Peter Yates and produced by Philip D'Antoni. The picture stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and Jacqueline Bisset. The screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner was based on the 1963 novel, Mute Witness, by Robert L. Fish, writing under the pseudonym Robert L. Pike. Lalo Schifrin wrote the original jazz-inspired score, arranged for brass and percussion. Robert Duvall has a small part as a cab driver who provides information to McQueen.
The film was made by McQueen's Solar Productions company, with his partner Robert E. Relyea as executive producer. Released by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, the film was a critical and box-office smash, later winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller) and receiving a nomination for Best Sound. Writers Trustman and Kleiner won a 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Bullitt is also notable for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, which is regarded as one of the most influential in movie history.
Ambitious San Francisco politician Walter Chalmers is about to present a surprise star witness in a Senate subcommittee hearing on organized crime. Johnny Ross, an alleged defector from the Organization in Chicago, is supposed to be the surprise witness, and he requires protective custody over the weekend until his Monday morning testimony. Chalmers (along with his committee staff) believes that every detail has been covered in advance, including where Ross should be held incognito (and by whom) until the hearings occur.
Seeking to associate himself and his grandstanding mob-busting effort with a high-visibility and highly successful SFPD detective, Chalmers requests that Lieutenant Frank Bullitt be put in charge of Ross's physical security and of the security detail of SFPD officers. Bullitt and his team, Sergeant Delgetti and Inspector Stanton, take up their protective custody of Ross with around-the-clock protection in a cheap hotel - the Hotel Daniels - selected by Chalmers. Upon arriving at Ross's hotel, Bullitt is immediately bothered by the vulnerability of Ross's situation. The room is on an outside face of the hotel building. It is on an upper floor, but its windows are at the exact level of an intercity expressway and close enough for someone in a moving vehicle to recognize the room's occupants and fire into the room, with or without a sniper's scope.
Too late to change anything, Bullitt deploys his protective team. Delgetti takes the first shift and Stanton takes the second shift. Delgetti calls Bullitt at home from the hotel room to give him the all-clear at the shift change to Stanton, and Bullitt reconfirms that he will personally be relieving Stanton for the third shift, and all seems quiet as Delgetti departs. A few minutes later, Stanton calls Bullitt at about 1:00 am to advise him that the desk clerk has unexpectedly called to announce that "Chalmers" and an unidentified man are downstairs and want to come up. While Stanton is talking to Bullitt, Ross surreptitiously unchains the hotel room door-lock. Bullitt tells Stanton to call Delgetti to tell him to return, and Bullitt advises Stanton that he is also on his way. As Ross backs away from the hotel room door, two hitmen burst in and open fire. Stanton is seriously wounded, and Ross is critically wounded.
At the hospital, Chalmers holds Bullitt responsible. Later, Bullitt thwarts a second assassination attempt on the hospitalized Ross before it can materialize, but Ross soon dies of his original wounds. Helped by a sympathetic Dr. Willard, who had been snubbed by Chalmers, Bullitt delays news of Ross's death by spiriting his body out of the hospital using a private ambulance service, registering it at the city morgue as a John Doe. Bullitt locates the cab driver who drove Ross to the hotel, who then retraces Ross's movements upon arriving in town, and also discovers that Ross made a long distance call from a phone booth. Bullitt's confidential informant, Eddy, reveals that Ross was caught stealing $2 million ($14.1 million today) from the Chicago mob and fled to San Francisco after escaping an attempted hit in Chicago. Meanwhile, Chalmers serves Bullitt's captain with a writ of habeas corpus in an attempt to force Bullitt to produce Ross.
While driving in San Francisco, Bullitt is pursued by Ross's hitmen in a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. He flips the chase, turning the hunters into the hunted. They attempt to escape, and a high-speed chase ensues through the streets of Russian Hill (actually a composite location with Potrero Hill) and out onto the highway south of the city, ending when Bullitt's 1968 Ford Mustang GT forces the Charger off the road, and it plows into a gas station where it explodes in a huge fireball.
Bullitt and Delgetti face their superiors on Sunday morning. They reveal that Ross is dead and their only leads are phone records indicating that Ross's phone call was to a Dorothy Simmons in a hotel in San Mateo. The detectives are given until Monday to deliver results. With his car out of commission following the chase, Bullitt gets a ride from his girlfriend Cathy in her Porsche 356 convertible. Meanwhile, the detectives have discovered Simmons strangled in her hotel room. Cathy sees police rushing in and follows, fearing for Bullitt. Horrified by the crime scene, she later confronts him about his violent world, wondering whether she really understands him and where the life he leads will take them.
Back at San Francisco police headquarters, Bullitt and Delgetti receive the luggage that the police had retrieved from the cartage service which Simmons had used to transport her luggage from San Mateo to San Francisco International Airport. Simmons' luggage turns out to be the luggage of two people: a male and a female. The luggage contains two sets (male and female) of brand-new clothing and personal toilet articles, and two airline ticket and passport folders with passports missing. There are also two travel brochures from a Chicago travel agency, each identically describing the agencies' Rome vacation package. The key pieces of evidence from the luggage, however, are two sets of traveler's cheques, hidden in the clothing of each set of luggage, in the amount of many tens of thousands of dollars each; all have been properly prepared, signed and and issued to "Albert Renick" and "Dorothy Renick".
Bullitt, seeing the significance of this self-identifying clue (the travelers checks were obviously genuine and had been signed in the presence of their issuer), concluded that the names on the checks were most likely genuine, their identities having been verified prior to the issuance of the travelers checks by their issuers. Bullitt directs Delgetti to obtain passport information on the Renicks from the U.S. Immigration Service office in Chicago as well as a fingerprint check on the "dead" Johnny Ross, to be compared to the fingerprints on Albert Renick's passport application. In the meantime, Chalmers again confronts Bullitt, demanding a signed admission that Ross died while in Bullitt's custody.
Bullitt refuses to comply, his suspicions regarding "Ross"'s true identity now nearly fully confirmed. When a copy of Albert Renick's passport application arrives by fax, it confirms that the man Chalmers had believed (and had told the SFPD) was Ross was actually Albert Renick. Renick is a used car salesman from Chicago without any criminal record. His only significance was that he bore a startling resemblance to the "real" Ross. Bullitt gives the full picture to Chalmers, pointing out that he was duped by the real Johnny Ross, who apparently convinced Albert Renick to allow himself to be used to fake Ross's presence by posing as the "real" Johnny Ross under police protection at the Hotel Daniels; unwittingly, he is killed in Ross' place by a professional hit team which Ross' brother, Pete Ross, had hired on the order of the Chicago Mob to kill the real Johnny Ross.
After "Ross"'s death, the real Johnny Ross, still alive, strangles Dorthy Renick in her hotel room in San Mateo to complete the cover-up. Ross carries this out because, after her husband's death, Dorthy Renick was the only person (other than Johnny Ross) who knew the real identity of the man who died from the multiple gunshot wounds sustained Friday evening at the Hotel Daniels.
Delgetti discovers plane reservations for the Renicks on an evening flight to Rome. He and Bullitt go to San Francisco International Airport to pursue Ross, traveling as Renick. They stake out the Rome flight gate, only to find that Ross has switched to a slightly earlier flight to London that is already taxiing toward takeoff. Chalmers shows up to lay claim to his witness, even though Ross is now wanted for murder, and Chalmers is again rebuffed by Bullitt. Bullitt has the plane stopped just prior to take-off, but Ross escapes Bullitt's pursuit by jumping out the jet's rear cabin door. Bullitt then jumps as well, and a foot chase across busy runways leads to a tense pursuit inside the crowded airport passenger terminal. After Ross bolts and shoots a security guard, Bullitt shoots and kills Ross before Ross can fire a shot at Bullitt. The empty-handed Chalmers skulks away and is driven off in his Lincoln Continental limousine displaying a "Support Your Local Police" bumper sticker.
Early the next morning, Bullitt walks home and observes Cathy's parked car upon approaching his apartment. He looks in and sees her sleeping in his bedroom but does not wake her. He takes off his shoulder holster and balances it on a banister. As he begins to wash up at his bathroom sink, he looks up into his own reflection in the mirror and contemplates himself ruefully just before the movie ends with a camera shot of his ammo clip.
- Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt
- Don Gordon as Delgetti
- Robert Vaughn as Walter Chalmers
- Simon Oakland as Captain Sam Bennett
- Felice Orlandi as Albert "Johnny Ross" Renick
- Pat Renella as Johnny Ross
- Jacqueline Bisset as Cathy
- Carl Reindel as Carl Stanton
- Paul Genge as Mike, The Hitman
- Bill Hickman as Phil, The Hitman's Partner
- Robert Duvall as Weissberg (cab driver)
- Norman Fell as Captain Baker
- Georg Stanford Brown as Dr. Willard
- Justin Tarr as Eddy the Informant
- Al Checco as Desk Clerk
- Victor Tayback as Pete Ross
- Robert Lipton as Chalmers' 1st Aide
- Ed Peck as Westcott (reporter at hospital)
- John Aprea as Killer
Bullitt was director Yates' first American film. He was hired after McQueen saw his 1967 UK feature, Robbery, with its extended car chase. Joe Levine, whose Embassy Pictures had distributed Robbery, didn't much like it, but Alan Trustman, who saw the picture the very week he was writing the Bullitt chase scenes, insisted that McQueen, Relyea and D'Antoni (none of whom had ever heard of Yates) see Robbery and consider Yates as director for Bullitt.
McQueen based the character of Frank Bullitt on San Francisco Inspector Dave Toschi, with whom he worked prior to filming. McQueen even copied Toschi's unique "fast draw" shoulder holster. Toschi later became famous, along with Inspector Bill Armstrong, as the lead San Francisco investigators of the Zodiac Killer murders that began shortly after the release of Bullitt. Toschi is played by Mark Ruffalo in the film Zodiac, in which Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) mentions that "McQueen got the idea for the holster from Toschi."
Bullitt is notable for its extensive use of actual locations rather than studio sets, and its attention to procedural detail, from police evidence processing to emergency room procedures. Director Yates' use of new lightweight Arriflex cameras allowed for greater flexibility in location shooting.
At the time of the film's release, the car chase scene generated prodigious excitement. Leonard Maltin has called it a "now-classic car chase, one of the screen's all-time best." Emanuel Levy wrote in 2003 that, "Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood's standards." In his obituary for Peter Yates, Bruce Weber wrote, "Mr. Yates’ reputation probably rests most securely on Bullitt (1968), his first American film – and indeed, on one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic."
The chase scene starts at 1h:05m into the film. The total time of the scene is 10 minutes and 53 seconds, beginning in the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco, at Columbus and Chestnut (although Bullitt first notices the hitmen following his car while driving west on Army, now Cesar Chavez, just after passing under Highway 101), followed by Midtown shooting on Hyde and Laguna Streets, with shots of Coit Tower and locations around and on Filbert and University Streets. The scene ends outside the city at the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in Brisbane. The route is geographically impossible to take place in real time.
Two 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT Fastbacks (325 hp) with four-speed manual transmissions were used for the chase scene, both lent by the Ford Motor Company to Warner Bros. as part of a promotional agreement. The Mustangs' engines, brakes and suspensions were heavily modified for the chase by veteran car racer Max Balchowsky. Ford also originally lent two Galaxie sedans for the chase scenes, but the producers found the cars too heavy for the jumps over the hills of San Francisco. They were replaced with two 1968 375 hp 440 Magnum V8-powered Dodge Chargers. The engines in both Charger models were left largely unmodified, but the suspensions were mildly upgraded to cope with the demands of the stunt work.
The director called for maximum speeds of about 75–80 miles per hour (121–129 km/h), but the cars (including the chase cars filming) at times reached speeds of over 110 miles per hour (180 km/h). Driver's point-of-view shots were used to give the audience a participant's feel of the chase. Filming took three weeks, resulting in nine minutes and 42 seconds of pursuit. Multiple takes were spliced into a single end product resulting in discontinuity: heavy damage on the passenger side of Bullitt's car can be seen much earlier than the incident producing it, and the Charger appears to lose five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots. Shooting from multiple angles simultaneously and creating a montage from the footage to give the illusion of different streets also resulted in the speeding cars passing the same vehicles at several different times, including, widely noted, a green Volkswagen Beetle. At one point the Charger crashes into the camera in one scene and the damaged front fender is noticeable in later scenes. Local authorities did not allow the car chase to be filmed on the Golden Gate Bridge, but did permit it in Midtown locations including Bernal Heights and the Mission District, and on the outskirts of neighboring Brisbane.
McQueen, an accomplished driver, drove in the close-up scenes, while stunt coordinator Carey Loftin, stuntman and motorcycle racer Bud Ekins, and McQueen's usual stunt driver, Loren Janes, drove for the high-speed part of the chase and performed other dangerous stunts. Ekins, who doubled for McQueen in The Great Escape sequence where McQueen's character jumps over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle, lays one down in front of a skidding truck during the Bullitt chase. The Mustang's interior rear view mirror goes up and down depending on who is driving: when the mirror is up, McQueen is visible behind the wheel, when it is down, a stunt man is driving.
The black Dodge Charger was driven by veteran stunt driver Bill Hickman, who played one of the hitmen and helped with the chase scene choreography. The other hitman was played by Paul Genge, who played a character who had ridden a Dodge off the road to his death in an episode of Perry Mason ("The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise") two years earlier. In a magazine article many years later, one of the drivers involved in the chase sequence remarked that the Charger - with a larger engine (big-block 440 cu. in. versus the 390 cu. in.) and greater horsepower (375 versus 325) - was so much faster than the Mustang that the drivers had to keep backing off the accelerator to prevent the Charger from pulling away from the Mustang.
The editing of the car chase likely won Frank P. Keller the editing Oscar for 1968, and has been included in lists of the "Best Editing Sequences of All-Time". Paul Monaco has written, "The most compelling street footage of 1968, however, appeared in an entirely contrived sequence, with nary a hint of documentary feel about it – the car chase through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, created from footage shot over nearly five weeks. Billy Fraker, the cinematographer for the film, attributed the success of the chase sequence primarily to the work of the editor, Frank P. Keller. At the time, Keller was credited with cutting the piece in such a superb manner that he made the city of San Francisco a "character" in the film." The editing of the scene was not without difficulties; Ralph Rosenblum wrote in 1979 that "those who care about such things may know that during the filming of the climactic chase scene in Bullitt, an out-of-control car filled with dummies tripped a wire which prematurely sent a costly set up in flames, and that editor Frank Keller salvaged the near-catastrophe with a clever and unusual juxtaposition of images that made the explosion appear to go off on time." This chase scene has also been cited by critics as groundbreaking in its realism and originality. In the release print and the print shown for many years, a scene in which the Charger actually hits the camera causing a red flare on screen, which many feel added to the realism, was edited out on DVD prints to the disappointment of many fans.
The original score was composed by Lalo Schifrin. The tracks on the soundtrack album are alternative versions of those heard in the film, re-recorded by Schifrin with leading jazz musicians, including Bud Shank (flute), Ray Brown (bass), Howard Roberts (guitar) and Larry Bunker (drums).
In 2000, the original arrangements as heard in the movie were recreated by Schifrin in a recording session with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, and released on the Aleph label. This release also includes re-recordings of the 1968 soundtrack album arrangements for some tracks.
In 2009, the never-before-released original recording of the score heard in the movie, recorded by Schifrin on the Warner Bros. scoring stage with engineer Dan Wallin, was made available by Film Score Monthly. Some score passages and cues are virtually identical to the official soundtrack album, while many softer, moodier cues from the film were not chosen or had been rewritten for the soundtrack release. Also included are additional cues that didn't make it into the film. In addition, the two-CD set features the official soundtrack album, newly mixed from the 1" master tape.
In the restaurant scene with McQueen and Bissett, the live band playing in the background is Meridian West, a jazz quartet that McQueen had seen performing at the famous Sausalito restaurant, The Trident.
Bullitt garnered both critical acclaim and box office success.
Box office performance
Bullitt was well received by critics and is considered by some to be one of the best films of 1968. At the time, Renata Adler made the film a New York Times Critics' Pick, calling it a "terrific movie, just right for Steve McQueen –-fast, well acted, written the way people talk." According to Adler, "the ending should satisfy fans from Dragnet to Camus."
In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its list of The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. In 2011, Time magazine listed it among "The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases of All Time," describing it as "the one, the first, the granddaddy, the chase on the top of almost every list," and saying "Bullitt‘s car chase is a reminder that every great such scene is a triumph of editing as much as it is stunt work. Naturally, it won that year's Academy Award for Best Editing". Among 21st-century critics, it holds a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, representing positive reviews from 34 of 35 critics with an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Steve McQueen is cool as ice in this thrilling police procedural that also happens to contain the arguably greatest car chase ever."
Awards and honors
The film was nominated for and won several critical awards. Frank P. Keller won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Film Editing, and it was also nominated for Best Sound. Five nominations at the BAFTA Film Awards for 1969 included Best Director for Peter Yates, Best Supporting Actor for Robert Vaughn, Best Cinematography for William A. Fraker, Best Film Editing for Frank P. Keller, and Best Sound Track. Robert Fish, Harry Kleiner, and Alan Trustman won the 1969 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture. Keller won the American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film. The film also received the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography (William A. Fraker) and the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing – Feature Film. It was successful at the 1970 Laurel Awards, winning Golden Laurel awards for Best Action Drama, Best Action Performance (Steve McQueen) and Best Female New Face (Jacqueline Bisset). In 2000, the Society of Camera Operators awarded Bullitt its "Historical Shot" award to David M. Walsh.
The famous car chase was later spoofed in Peter Bogdanovich's screwball comedy film, What's Up, Doc?, the Clint Eastwood film, The Dead Pool, in the Futurama episode, "Bendin' in the Wind," and in the Archer season six episode, "The Kanes." Bullitt producer Philip D'Antoni went on to film two more car chases, for The French Connection and The Seven-Ups, both set and shot in New York City.
The Ford Mustang name has been closely associated with the film. In 2001, the Ford Motor Company released the Bullitt edition Ford Mustang GT. Another version of the Ford Mustang Bullitt, which is closer to resembling the original film Mustang, was released in 2008, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the film. A third version is planned for 2019. In 2009, Bud Brutsman of Overhaulin' built an authentic-looking replica of the Bullitt Mustang, fully loaded with modern components, for the five-episode 2009 TV series, Celebrity Rides: Hollywood's Speeding Bullitt, hosted by Chad McQueen, son of Steve McQueen.
Steve McQueen's likeness as Frank Bullitt was used in two Ford commercials. The first was for the Europe-only 1997 Ford Puma, which featured a special effects montage of McQueen (who died in 1980) driving a new Puma around San Francisco before parking it in a studio apartment garage beside the film Mustang and the motorcycle from The Great Escape. In a 2004 commercial for the 2005 Mustang, special effects are again used to create the illusion of McQueen driving the new Mustang, after a man receives a Field of Dreams-style epiphany and constructs a racetrack in the middle of a cornfield.
The Mustang is featured in the 2003 video game, Ford Racing 2, in a Drafting challenge, on a course named Port Side. It appears in the Movie Stars category, along with other famous cars like the Ford Torino from Starsky & Hutch and the Ford Mustang Mach 1 from Diamonds Are Forever. In the 2011 video game, Driver: San Francisco, the "Bite the Bullet" mission is based on the famous chase scene, with licensed versions of the Mustang and Charger from the film.
During the only season of the 2012 TV series Alcatraz, Det. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) drives a green 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang fastback like Bullitt's. In the series finale, she finds herself in a 2013 Ford Mustang GT, the modern equivalent of the 1968 fastback, giving chase to a black LX Dodge Charger driven by series antagonist Thomas "Tommy" Madsen (David Hoflin). The sequence pays homage to Bullitt's car chase, including Madsen buckling the seatbelt in his Charger before starting, and two passes by a green Volkswagen Beetle.
The Blue Bloods TV series 2015 episode "The Bullitt Mustang" centers around the reported theft of one of the Mustangs used in the film, valued at a half million dollars, a case which detectives Danny Reagan and Maria Baez pick up.
Several items of clothing worn by McQueen's Bullitt received a boost in popularity thanks to the film: desert boots, a trench coat, a blue turtleneck sweater and, most famously, a brown tweed jacket with elbow patches.
The last remaining Charger and one of the two Mustangs were scrapped after filming because of damage and liability concerns, while the other was sold to an employee of Warner Bros. The car changed hands several times, with McQueen at one point making an unsuccessful attempt to buy it in late 1977. The car is currently owned by Sean Kiernan in Tennessee whose father bought the car for $6,000 in 1974 after responding to a listing in Road & Track. The stunt Mustang used for filming was found in 2016 at a junkyard in Mexico. The car was verified by an automobile authentication expert who conclusively determined from the vehicle's VIN and other identifying information.
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"Bullitt," as everybody has heard by now, also includes a brilliant chase scene. McQueen (doing his own driving) is chased by, and chases, a couple of gangsters up and down San Francisco's hills. They slam into intersections, bounce halfway down the next hill, scrape by half a dozen near-misses, sideswipe each other, and leave your stomach somewhere in the basement for about 11 minutes.
- Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2004). Leonard Maltin's 2004 Movie and Video Guide. Penguin Group. p. 195.
Taut action-film makes great use of San Francisco locations, especially in now-classic car chase, one of the screen's all-time best; Oscar-winning editing by Frank Keller.
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Bullitt (1968). Philip D’Antoni, who went on to produce The French Connection, warmed up for it with this Steve McQueen crime drama, set in San Francisco, where the steep hills seem to yearn for cars to go sailing over them. The director, Peter Yates, makes the most of the locations, especially during a gravity-defying chase sequence that earned an Oscar for its editor, Frank P. Keller.
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- "By 1968 the group was performing at The Trident, a prominent jazz club in Sausalito and the group became a regular performer at Glide Memorial on Sundays. By March of 1968, Meridian West had been noticed by Steve McQueen, the actor, who was captivated by a performance at The Trident. McQueen gave the group a visual cameo appearance in the movie, "Bullitt," which was being filmed in San Francisco in April." - Meridian Meridian West web site (archived at WebCite). A similar account is available at Meridian West Folk Jazz Ensemble with Allan Pimentel (archived at WebCite).
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- Bonhams Lot 100 From The Chad McQueen Collection: The Bullitt Jacket. Retrieved March 22, 2014. In 1968's Bullitt, McQueen made the most unlikely items extremely fashionable – desert boots, a trench coat, a blue turtleneck sweater and a brown tweed jacket. Only McQueen could make those clothing items ... global trends... The jacket, much like the man, occupies a very special place in cinematic history, it is unquestionably one of the most important pieces of film –and McQueen memorabilia extant. (WebCite archive)
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One of the Mustangs was so badly damaged during filming it was judged unrepairable and scrapped. The second, chassis 8R02S125559, was sold to a Warner Bros. employee after filming was completed.
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