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Gerald S. O'Loughlin
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
Sidney Poitier insisted that the movie be filmed in the north because an incident in which he and Harry Belafonte were almost killed by Ku Klux Klansman during a visit to Mississippi. Hence the selection of Sparta, Illinois for the location filming. Nevertheless, the filmmakers and actors did venture briefly into Tennessee for the outdoor scenes at the cotton plantation, because there was no similar cotton plantation in Illinois that could be used. Poitier slept with a gun under his pillow during production in Tennessee. Poitier did receive threats from local racist thugs so the shoot was cut short and production returned to Illinois. See more »
During the shot where Sam Wood first approaches the train depot, he casts a very long shadow reaching behind him all the way up the building wall as if lighting is directly in front of him. In the next shot when he is passing the door and sees Virgil, the shadow has greatly shrunk down as if the lighting is directly overhead. 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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