Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger
Directed by Norman Jewison
In Sparta, Mississippi, there’s been a murder. An ignorant police officer tries to pin it on a black man, only to find out that black man is a police officer from Philadelphia. Mr. Tibbs (Poitier) was the man in question and he has a lot to show the chief of police. Tibbs is a homicide expert and his boss offers their expert to help in the case. Neither Gillespie (Steiger) or Tibbs want to work with each other but find that he is going to help anyway.
Gillespie is a racist, and Tibbs is proud. An unlikely friendship could be made from this partnership, but as they get further in solving the murder each character has a lot to learn from the other. “In the Heat of the Night” was awarded five Oscars. The movie was released in the Civil Rights era and it shows audiences how no matter the skin color, no one is more superior than the other.
When we are first introduced to Gillespie, he’s a despicable character. He can’t believe a black man could be a police officer and even make more money than him. Throughout the film, Gillespie sees how other people in the town treat Tibbs and he knows the visitor is unwelcome. As Tibbs proves time and time again how valuable his skills are as a homicide expert, Gillespie starts to appreciate him more. He even comes to Tibbs defense when others gang up on him.
Tibbs on the other hand is quiet and proud. He comes from the north but you can tell he has dealt with this prejudice all his life. His advancement in the police force and becoming an expert give him reason to be proud. By staying in Sparta to solve the murder he wants to show how superior he is. When he and Gillespie question a possible suspect, a white plantation owner, Tibbs is determined to nail him to the crime. It takes a different confession from a source to show Tibbs how he let himself be blinded to who the real murderer is.
In the end, Gillespie and Tibbs depart on a mutual contentment. They’ve grown to respect each other, which goes a long way from how they were introduced in the beginning.
“In the Heat of the Night” sounds like it would be a serious film, but it’s not. While it does have a serious message sprinkled in there, the film itself is comedic. It pokes fun at the ignorance of the chief of police and there is humor found in the relationship between Tibbs and Gillespie.
It’s a movie worth watching because while the Civil Rights movement was successful, there is still prejudice today. “In the Heat of the Night” is a reminder that we’re all human and you should get to know someone rather than judge them.