1967 / Director. Norman Jewison.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Talk about a film being ahead of its time. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT pushed all kinds of envelopes. Sidney Poitier stars as Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia homicide detective who gets caught in a murder investigation in a small racist Mississippi town. When passing through on his way home Tibbs is arrested and suspected of murder because of the colour of his skin. The sheriff soon finds himself humiliated when Tibbs is revealed to be a prominent detective and he request his assistance on the investigation. TIbbs's city bos insists that he stay to help and he is left to lead a pack of incompetent yokels on a case of whodunnit. With its gritty and stark aesthetic and brutal attention to the violence this was a film that forged a new direction for cinematic thrillers. It lead the way for films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SEVEN decades later and confronted the audience with a hard-edged, no bullshit urban crime genre that hadn't been seen before. The racial themes don't pull any punches either with Tibbs being subjected to just about every derogative slur imaginable. It was clearly a film of it's time and yet so amazingly ahead of itself. It's a remarkable film.
1970 / Director. Gordon Douglas.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT introduced movie goers to a new type of hero. A black homicide detective that took no shit and pulled no punches. So powerful was the character of Mr Tibbs that the producers of this sequel made the absurd decision of calling it THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS, which is the famous line from the first film. Not only is it a dumb title but it also bares no relevance to the story. The film also ignores the fact that Tibbs was supposed to be a Philadelphian and the setting was shifted to San Francisco. It's hardly a point of conjecture because the San Francisco cityscape lends itself nicely to the film. Several years after the events of the first film we are given a glimpse into Virgil Tibbs's home life... his interactions with his son are great. The story takes hold when a prostitute is found murdered, Tibbs is called in to the case and a prominent local preacher becomes the number one suspect. The movie takes on a strange ambience that is a huge departure from IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Where the first film was gritty with a grassroots blues soundtrack, this sequel is more of an exploitation piece with a funky jive soundtrack. In fact it lead the way for a whole string of blaxploitation films of that era... but this is a cut above films like SHAFT and BAADASSSS with a strong attention to plot devices and genuinely great performances. A lot of THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS has strong Hitchcock influences also, especially with distinctive shot set-ups and angles. Martin Landau is excellent as the suspected killer and his performance is heartfelt. The film isn't as innovative or provocative as it's predecessor but it remains an accomplished follow up.
1971 / Director. Don Medford.
Made directly after THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS, THE ORGANIZATION concludes the Mister Tibbs trilogy with a story that further removes his character from what audiences expected. The film begins as a regular murder investigation but soon has Tibbs chasing a allusive drug cartel with the assistance of a vigilant group. The film opens up with a truly awesome heist scene that is masterfully shot. It's elaborate and creative and lasts for 10 minutes without a single word spoken. It instills a lot of confidence in the viewer, which is sadly misplaced. The finale is also a stroke of cinematic brilliance with a wonderful pursuit through an abandoned subway tunnel. It is just unfortunate that everything between these two awesome sequences is fairly bland and monotonous. The performances are decent enough but the story is convoluted and silly. Tibbs is way out of his depth and the viewer isn't stupid enough to buy into this whole fiasco. Such as it is, THE ORGANIZATION was an unfortunate way to end the series and a disappointing farewell to a legendary character. Because of the film's failure Sidney Poitier retired the character in favour of more comedic films. It's a shame because it could have been a totally redeemable and memorably franchise. The closest he ever got to playing Virgil Tibbs again was in the brilliant 1988 film SHOOT TO KILL (aka Deadly Pursuit). With Hollywood so intent on resurrecting classic characters these days (Jack Ryan, Alex Cross) I am surprised that they haven't looked to bring Virgil Tibbs back to the screen. It goes against my own ethos when I say that it would be kind of cool if they did.