In the Heat of the Night, written by Stirling Siliphant based on a novel by John Ball, with the wondrous Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger
A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:
- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEVa4_CsRStSBBDo4uJWT8BSWtTTn0N1E and http://realini.blogspot.ro/
Superb casting and a gripping, meaningful script.
It won the Academy Awards for:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Rod Steiger
- Best writing
Among other prestigious prizes it won The Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Actor and screenplay, to which we need to add a BAFTA.
I do not understand and appreciate why Sydney Poitier was not recognized for a perfect performance, no less exhilarating than the acting of his partner in the film, Rod Steiger, who received all the honors.
Rod Steiger is apart from a marvelous, Academy Award Winning actor, the most connected actor in Hollywood:
“Brett Tjaden created the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game to examine the network structure of this small world. In this game a player names an actor or actress. If the person acted in a film with
Kevin Bacon, then they have a ‘Bacon Number’ of one. If they acted in a film with someone who has worked with Bacon, they have a Bacon Number of two, and so on. Tjaden showed that the highest Bacon Number is eight, a relatively short maximum path length for a network this large,
especially if one considers that Bacon was connected to less than 1% of the actors. The most-connected actor or actress in Hollywood was Rod Steiger. Steiger was highly connected because he worked on film in diverse genres, making him a node that links the diverse clusters of the small world (cited in Uzzi and Spiro, 2005).”
Sydney Poitier portrays perfectly the detective Virgil Tibbs, who is in the first place a suspect in a murder case.
The suspicion is just based on racist attitudes in the small town of Sparta, Mississippi that make the police incriminate people based on skin color.
So when the corpse of a rich local man is found on the street and Virgil Tibbs is stumbled upon at the railway station he is quickly included with “The Usual Suspects”
Only at the police station, sheriff Gillespie, played by Rod Steiger who won the Oscar for his portrayal, discovers that their suspect is actually a police officer.
Virgil Tibbs is asked by his superior in Philadelphia to assist in this murder case, especially given that he is the best they have in his office.
Since he had been mistreated already and the sheriff keeps calling him Virgil, officer Tibbs is reluctant to take on the case.
But once he does, he demonstrates a sophistication, skills and elegance that put to shame the behavior of those around.
The relationship with the sheriff is tense and in spite of the evident superiority in the manner he deals with the case, Virgil Tibbs is locked up for a while.
The mayor intervenes since the widow threatens to move the factory that was planned for Sparta elsewhere, unless the northern policeman is in charge of the homicide.
She could see as the rest of us in the audience that the locals are pure amateurs and the African American is like a Mozart compared with amateurs who have played the piano a few times in their lives.
Endicott is the name of the man who has most to gain from the death of the would be investor and he is visited by The Specialist and Gillespie.
The rich racist quickly pours down his philosophy of white supremacy and then slaps Virgil Tibbs who…slaps him right back.
From here on it is clear that the life of the Northern African American policeman is in danger and he is chased by a band of white thugs who are ready to kill him and their attack is not finalized because the sheriff arrives at the scene.
This has reminded me of Mississippi Burning, another excellent drama with racism even more prominent.
“Gillespie: "Virgil"? That's a funny name for a n***er boy to come from Philadelphia. What do they call you up there?
Virgil Tibbs: They call me MISTER TIBBS!”
As far as I can tell, this is one of the most famous dialogues in film history, on the same level with the other memorable lines:
- “You can’t handle the truth
- I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship
- You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall”