In the beginning of this film, there is no heat at all. Nothing but cold chilling exchanges, between a sole African American and Caucasian cops, that set the tone for this work of art in a daring time period.
In both this time and the film, the supremacy mindset based on skin alone is evident, but the admirable Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) remains calm and collected. The plot involves him being rushed to a police station with allegations with complete disregard for evidence and who he is. Seeing as the cop never searched him, the chief (Rod Steiger) and the rest of the precinct is startled to learn that Virgil is a detective in Philadelphia, and the best detective they’ve got.
One thing leads to another, and Virgil is pressed to stay in this discriminatory town, thanks to both his commander in Philly and the widower of a murdered man demanding it. The train is symbolic and constantly blowing in the background as a reminder to Virgil that he doesn’t belong.
Everyone bets against him, and he constantly has to prove himself to the condescending white people. But Virgil is smarter than the whole white precinct, and he consistently proves it. Leaving the chief, scratching his head, at how brilliant Virgil is, over all other law enforcement (though Virgil is impulsive and that may serve consequences for him).
Sadly, in this town, one will slowly start to see that the ignorance overshadows the murder. Virgil is hunted for a minimal offense, while he hunts a maximum offense. He proves that strong minds operate well to the end.
The gum-chewing police chief’s character progresses and so does Virgil’s. The performances are gritty down to the core. The music provided is a bit silly though. The cinematography and the editing are great.
This is a groundbreaking film given its time period and subject matter. It made AFI’s Top 100 Films Of All Time, and rightfully so. It’s dark, cold and red hot all at once.
Racial discrimination faces brilliance and rotates 180 degrees. One will walk away musing in thought.