Obituary: Saluting Filmmaker Peter Yates

Pete Yates (r.) directs Steve McQueen in the 1968 classic Bullitt.

The respected British-born filmmaker Peter Yates died of heart failure on Jan. 9, 2011. A veteran director who made more than 20 movies over the past four decades, Yates was 81 years old at the time of his death.

Though he cut his teeth directing installments of such of-so-British 1960s televison shows as The Saint and Secret Agent, Yates’ movie career took on a decidedly American flavor. Following his first feature film, the 1967 British production Robbery (based on an infamous 1963 train heist in England), Yates was lured to Hollywood by superstar Steve McQueen to direct him in Bullitt … and the filmmaker never looked back.

A genre journeyman (he trafficked in all of them), Yates offered a view of America from across the pond — a fresher view, at the very least, of decidedly American characters living their lives on a similarly American landscape.

Here’s a selection of films by Mr. Yates that should be all the proof you need:

Bullitt, 1968

Bullitt (1968)
Steve McQueen plays the coolest cop in San Francisco in this classic crime thriller, wherein Yates directs the man and his Mustang in one of the greatest car chases in screen history.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video

The Hot Rock (1972)
In this comic thriller, Robert Redford and company’s plot to steal a famed diamond from a museum seems foolproof … until it’s executed and the stone ends up in the wrong hands, again and again.
Available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, 1973

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Outstanding Boston location work and a fine performance by Robert Mitchum stand out in this tale of an aging, low-level Boston gangster who decides to drop dime on his friends to avoid a long prison sentence.
Available on DVD from Criterion Collection

Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)
Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel star in this sometimes dark and sometimes satirical look at a private ambulance service in Los Angeles. Can you guess which star plays Jugs!?
Available on DVD from Fox

The Deep (1977)
The image of Jacqueline Bisset in a clinging wet T-shirt almost completely overshadows the fact that Yates’ film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestseller is a solid, technically proficient underwater thriller.
Available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment

Breaking Away (1979)
More than just a bicycling movie, Yates’ finest film examines the American class system as illustrated by a group of “Cutters” — locals in Bloomington, Ind. — who resent the rich college students who annually invade their hometown.
Available on DVD from Fox

The Dresser (1983)
Yates picked up his second Oscar nomination (following Breaking Away) for his fine adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s drama about a fading classical actor (Albert Finney) and his relationship with his personal assistant (Tom Courtenay).
Available on DVD from Sony

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.