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The movie In the Heat of the Night was a very pleasant surprise. When the movie begins, it is not clear what really separates this film from any other crime drama. The beginning plays out like a bad made-for-tv movie that you switch off after the first few minutes. The whole direction of the movie changes with the introduction of Detective Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier. The gimmick, per say, of this movie, is actually profoundly deep. As a result of the racial tension caused by the setting, Alabama in the 1960s, you an equally strong sub-plot that complements the crime mystery. Detective Tibbs has to work twice as hard to solve the murder just because he has to overcome the racism of the small town.
My favorite scene, and possibly the most pivotal scene in the film, occurs when Detectives Tibbs and Gillespie visit the home of Mr. Endicott. The moment when Tibbs slaps Endicott in the face, defines the tone of the entire movie. It defines Tibbs as man who is basically an unstoppable force, and you know he is going to solve this murder case. This movie has a very clear civil rights theme, and it appears to present a very realistic example of racial tension in the South. Sydney Poitier utilizes his superior acting skills to transform this mediocre crime drama into a powerful period piece.
There is one additional thing I want to address. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but I saw a lot of similarities between the character of Ralph Henshaw, the man behind the counter at the diner, and the character Norman Bates from the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. Both men act very nervous all the time and they carry themselves in the same manner. They don’t have very high self esteem’s, it seems to me. And, they are both murderers.