WolfmanOz at the Movies #61

They call me Mr. Tibbs !

Was the defiant response by Sidney Poitier’s character policeman Virgil Tibbs to the aggressive and racist police chief of Sparta, Mississippi, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger in his Oscar winning Best Actor role) in the timeless mystery drama classic In The Heat Of The Night released in 1967 and directed by Norman Jewison.

The film tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi.

After the murder victim is discovered, Tibbs is arrested at the train station as he had a fat wallet and is accused of murder until Tibbs reveals he is a top homicide detective.

Frustrated by the ineptitude of the local police but impressed by Tibbs, the murdered man’s widow threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, so the town’s leading citizens are forced to comply with her demand.

Tibbs initially suspects the murderer is plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the town’s most powerful citizens, who publicly opposed the murdered man’s new factory. When Tibbs interrogates him, Endicott slaps him in the face. Tibbs slaps him back.

What becomes apparent whilst watching the movie is that the murder mystery actually takes a back seat to the interplay and development of the two main characters; and what two characters we have which are both superbly played by Poitier and Steiger.

Tibbs comes across as a rather arrogant and, initially, a dislikable character which adds to the tension between the two, and we also see the development of Gillespie from a loud redneck racist to a man who appreciates and comes to admire Tibbs as he gradually puts his prejudices away. Steiger’s performance is an absolute master class and was fully deserving of the many awards he won for that role.

In contrast to other films of the 1960s like The Chase and Hurry Sundown, which offered confused visions of the South, In The Heat Of The Night depicted a tough, edgy vision of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders more than itself, a theme reflecting the uncertain mood of the time, just as the civil rights movement was attempting to take hold. Director Norman Jewison wanted to tell an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together in spite of their difficulties.

Almost everything in this movie is superbly done; from the sharply drawn minor characters, the careful plotting, the timing of each scene’s setting, mood and dialogue.

IMO it’s one of the finest films from the 1960s.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . Queen of Diamonds.

12 responses to “WolfmanOz at the Movies #61”

  1. Dot Avatar

    Like the orchid our bloggers need to be nourished with bonhomie and good cheer.

  2. NFA Avatar

    Thank you WolfmanOz.

    One of the finest movies… evah!

  3. Christine Avatar

    Sidney Poitier, handsome
    Rod Steiger, exceptional always

  4. Roger Avatar

    A well made film, but I find the plot, based on the novel of the same name, unsatisfying and consequently lose interest around the half way point. The film is redeemed by Rod Steiger’s performance.

  5. Tintarella di Luna Avatar
    Tintarella di Luna

    There was a spin off TV series too the police chief played by Carrol O’Connor

  6. Tony Tea Avatar
    Tony Tea

    “Yeah! Oh, yeah!”

  7. Bar Beach Swimmer Avatar
    Bar Beach Swimmer

    Thanks, Wolfie. Great performances, all round.

    Recently, we watched Steiger in the movie, Across the Bridge. The suspense is off the charts. A top notch performance.

  8. Roger Avatar

    Incidentally, Steiger served in the US Navy in WWII, seeing action at Iwo Jima among other locations. He later studied acting under the auspices of the GI Bill, a similar story to Lee Marvin whom Wolfman featured here recently.

  9. Carpe Jugulum Avatar
    Carpe Jugulum

    I have seen the film a couple of times and Rod Steiger owned that film.

    The performances of the cast, although looking dated now, are far superior to the dross on the big screen in the last few years.

  10. johanna Avatar

    Yes, it is a bit ‘dated’ in that it is very much a product of its time, when racial tensions were running high and the US was grappling with the nuances.

    Nevertheless, the acting of the principals is top notch, especially Steiger, as others have said.

    I watched it for about the third time a couple of years ago and would happily watch it again. There are not many films in that category.

  11. jupes Avatar

    Another superb pick Wolfie! Haven’t seen it for a few years but hopefully that will be rectified soon.

  12. WolfmanOz Avatar

    Been super busy these last 2 days with soccer refereeing and looking after our grand-daughter, so I’ve had no time to respond.

    Rod Steiger was an interesting actor. He could sometime go over-the-top and ham it up but at his best he was mesmerising.

    Obviously his performance here was one of his best but others I rate highly are:
    His supporting role as Marlon Brando’s brother in On The Waterfront.
    Al Capone in which he played the mobster. Robert De Niro’s performance as Capone in The Untouchables strongly imitates Steiger.
    The tortured pawnbroker in The Pawnbroker (probably his most under-stated performance).
    As Napoleon in Waterloo.

    By all accounts a difficult actor to work with but when he was good he was very very good.

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