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
Producer Walter Mirisch used creative accounting to prove to United Artists that the film would make a profit even if it did not play in the South at all. See more »
When Det. Virgil Tibbs is at the train station, and Police Chief Bill Gillespie comes back to get him, in the wide shot there is a dog slinking along the building. When they close in, the dog is gone. See more »
It's ironic that a decades-old feature should remind us how best to conduct a murder investigation in the redneck, rural South. Without losing sight of the important peripheral issues (namely bigotry and discrimination), the film concentrates on what ought to be (but usually isn't) the primary concern of any murder mystery: the mystery itself, revealed here in a compelling series of puzzling clues. It's too bad the resolution is weakened by so many plot twists, and by the anti-climactic final unmasking of the killer (in a throwaway gesture resembling a white trash variation of "the butler did it"). But any narrative gaps are well covered by the pair of dynamic star performances. The salt-and-pepper pairing of racial opposites on the same side of the law has long since become a tired cliché, but nothing about the roles is black and white: not Rod Steiger's jaundiced perceptions, nor Sidney Poitier's obsession with solving a crime which has nothing to do with him.
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