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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
1967 was a turbulent year in the U S. Civil rights marches and demonstrations, anti-war rallies, the summer of love,psychedelic music and backlash against the previously noted, 1967 had it all. And this great movie came out, about a small Mississippi town embroiled in a steaming hot summer and a sizzling murder case. The movie diverges from the book on many aspects, mostly for the better. This is a serious look at a nation and a community in turmoil. The acting is first rate, from Sidney Poitier (one of the greatest American actors of this generation, regardless of race), Rod Steiger, Lee Grant, Warren Oates and the whole passel of townsfolk. The plot has been well outlined in previous posts, so I won't belabor it. My favorite scene is when Virgil examines the deceased, looking for clues in discoloration, type of wound, etc., while the sheriff looks on with his jaw practically on the floor in amazement. You can plainly see that he wanted to pin the crime on a hitch-hiker or one of the town's less desirable inhabitants. While some may see the film as preachy or presenting Virgil as a superior to the hicks, seen in the context of its time, it really tells a lot about race relations of the time. The movie is well filmed with lots of atmospheric detail of the time and region (even though it was filmed in Illinois, some areas of Illinois and Indiana were very Southern in their feel and outlook). Great acting, a good mystery, fine cinematography and an important theme make this a must-see movie. 10 stars.
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