Detective Virgil Tibbs is caught up in the racial tension of the US South when he is arrested after the murder of a prominent businessman. Tibbs was simply waiting for his next train at the station in Sparta, Mississippi and the confusion is soon resolved but when local police chief Gillespie learns that Tibbs is the Philadelphia PD's number one homicide expert, he reluctantly asks for his assistance. The murdered man, Mr. Colbert, had come to Sparta from the North to build a new factory and his wife and business associates immediately point the finger at Endicott, the most powerful man in the county and the one who had the most to lose if a major new employer comes to the area. Tibbs' life is clearly in danger but he perseveres in a highly charged and racially explosive environment until the killer is found. Written by
The town of Sparta is in east-central Mississippi. The Mississippi River forms the western border for most of that state. If Harvey Oberst (the fugitive being chased early in the film) made it as far as a bridge to Arkansas, he would have been at least 100 miles out of the jurisdiction of the Sparta police (who catch him). Even if, unbeknownst to the audience, the Sparta police had been deputized by some other jurisdiction, it's doubtful that they could have brought him back to the Sparta jail in the time frame presented. See more »
Rod Steiger won best actor, deserved it, and was matched eyebrow for eyebrow by Sidney Poitier's Unforgettable Creation of Mr. Virgil Tibbs, police detective. The supporting cast is perfect, with Beah Richards, William Prince, and Scott Wilson as special standouts. The dialogue by Siliphant is crisply written, the direction by Jewison is non-pareil, and the mystery is difficult and resolves things perfectly. As an overall American mystery, I must vote for this even over the Maltese Falcon (which of course is also great). Forget the hit-and-miss TV spin-off and treat yourself to the real thing.
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