Saturday, March 20, 2010

In The Heat Of The Night

The key moment of the film comes in the very beginning and is the same line everyone remembers. It is the moment when Virgil Tibbs asserts himself when the Sparta, Mississippi Police Chief belligerently asks what he's referred to as in his hometown of Philadelphia. Virgil replies, "THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS!" and the audience cheers while some think, this movie was made in 1967-sentiments they will ask again during the infamous slap scene. Indeed, In The Heat Of The Night challenged racial stereotypes and caused a stir when it was released, but at its heart it is an old fashioned murder mystery/detective story (at a time when these stories were still fun and not set in CSI labs). The plot revolves around the murder of a rich industrialist. A well-groomed black man is arrested for the crime, shown to be innocent, and then heads the case as he is a top homicide detective from up north. He is given aid from the reluctant new Chief of Police Gillespie, and of course the two men form a bond as the movie progresses. The movie oozes southern atmosphere, though I learn it was filmed in Illinois. Though Sidney Poitier turns in a wonderful performance, the movie is stolen by Rod Steiger in his academy award winning role as the beer-bellied, gum chewing, southern speaking police chief. I would have liked a neater wrap-up to the film's mystery, but this is a wonderful film on so many different levels, and one that inspired a revolution.