Oscars Challenge #38: In the Heat of the Night (1967) Movie Review
"They call me Mister Tibbs."
Murder mystery films nowadays are not uncommon. If a movie handles that genre well, I am sure it will be terrific. Especially if the crime gets you thinking every step of the way.
How about combining mystery with several hard-to-swallow topics like racism? In the Heat of the Night managed to create a story that is well ahead of its time and an important one.
The movie begins when a cop named Sam Wood is doing night rounds. He discovers the murdered body of a wealthy person, Philip Colbert, lying on the street. In search of the killer, he met Virgil Tibbs, a Black man waiting for the train at the station. Since he is black and has a lot of money in his wallet, he is accused of being the killer and gets arrested. He was taken to the station, and Police Chief Gillespie continued to blame to murder on him. He soon learns that Tibbs is one of the top detectives in Philadelphia. They retracted their statements against him and asked for his help in pointing out the murderer.
During the initial investigation of the body, Tibbs concluded that the murder happened in a different place and moved to where he was found later. He also stated that the killer is right-handed.
The chief arrests another possible suspect, Harvey Oberst, and plans to beat him to confess his crimes. Tibbs disagrees because the one they arrested was left-handed and has witnesses to confirm that he was not involved in the murder. Colbert's widow threatens to halt the factory construction if Tibbs does not lead the investigation.
Tibbs seeks out possible suspects, one of which was Mr. Colbert's competitor, Eric Endicott, a racist and one of the town's most powerful men. He opposes the construction of the factory. Tibbs and Endicott had an unpleasant confrontation when they slapped each other. Furious, he sends a group of thugs after him, and Officer Gillespie saves him.
Tibbs convinced Sam Wood to re-trace his patrol car route during the night of the murder. Gillespie joined them. Tibbs notices that the police took a detour and asks why. It seems that Wood enjoys looking at 16-year-old Delores Purty undressing under the bright lights of her house. Aside from this, Gillespie found that Wood deposited a large amount of money in the bank after the murder. He arrests him as the possible suspect, but Tibbs deduces that the murder happened in a different location.
Delores' brother brings her to the police and files a case of statutory rape against Wood because he got her sister pregnant. Tibbs wants to be there when they question Delores, but her brother is annoyed because a Black man chooses to be part of the investigation. Soon after, he gathers a mob to attack Tibbs.
Tibbs goes to a local illegal abortionist, and she confesses that she is about to give medicine to Delores. She arrives and immediately runs away. Tibbs follows her and confronts her boyfriend Ralph, the cook at a roadside diner. Delores' brother and the mob he gathered also arrived and held Tibbs at gunpoint. He told him to check his sister's wallet to find the money that Ralph gave him for the abortion. Ralph shoots him as soon as Gillespie and the other police officers arrive. They arrest Ralph, who also confesses to killing Mr. Colbert. He hitchhiked in Mr. Colbert's car and attacked him at a nearby construction site to knock him unconscious and rob him, but instead, he accidentally killed him.
The movie ends when Tibbs boards a train to Philadelphia while Gillespie carries his suitcase and thanks him.
In The Heat of the Night is one of those movies that really gives you a wild roller-coaster ride from start to end. There is no denying that this film deserves to be one of the best in terms of storytelling, acting, writing, and being culturally significant because of its proper inclusion of racism, even though it is one of the most challenging topics to discuss.
There are movies that you watch because you enjoy the plot, have a lot of action and suspense or would make you cry. Then there are those that, despite having a sub-par storyline, get you hooked because of their importance. This film has it all.
I immediately like the portrayal of incompetent cops seeking the assistance of one of the top detectives. You often hate to see Mr. Tibbs's character getting the mistreatment he doesn't deserve just because he is Black. But it's one of these film's themes that makes it very important to watch. Some scenes may be pretty disturbing to watch, especially when Tibbs gets bullied or judged by other characters because of his skin color. Nevertheless, I find it fulfilling that his character is always unfazed by these adversities.
The acting is one of those that drives the film's story—terrific performances from Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. You can feel the tension, especially when the two characters collide with their different point of view and perspectives. Another thing to point out is the development of Gillespie's character from being a villain figure at the story's beginning. Still, because they wanted to show the people the reputation of the police, he accepted Tibbs' help and soon became close with him.
One scene to point out is when Tibbs and Endecott slap each other. It was not planned, yet I liked it because it added more tension not only to the story but also to the characters as well.
If you are looking for a movie that is full of mysteries, surprises, and tackles real-world issues, then this should be added to your list.
A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.