|Rod Steiger as the stubborn chief of police.|
[upon the suggestion that he may have murdered Colbert, Endicott slaps Tibbs across the face. Tibbs promptly slaps him back. Endicott is positively shocked.]
Endicott: You saw it.
Gillespie: I saw it.
Endicott: Well, what are you gonna do about it?
Gillespie: I don't know.
Endicott: I'll remember that.
Endicott: There was a time when I could've had you shot.
Stieger is terrific as the conflicted Southern officer. He has his pride, and like many white Southerners, is distrustful of anyone from the North, let alone a black man. But he's miles ahead of the hooligans in town when it comes to judging a man by his character rather than his skin. His motives are not entirely grounded on a more advanced social consciousness; however, he's quick to realize that Tibbs is a lot smarter than he. His job is on the line because the victim's wife is threatening to pull the investment into the factory out unless her husband's killer is caught. Gillespie needs Tibbs. You can see him reassessing the strange out-of-towner Tibbs as the investigation unfolds and wondering about long-held beliefs as he works his grey matter as hard as his omnipresent wad of gum.
Stieger won that year's Oscar for Best Actor against some tough competition: Warren Beatty for Bonnie and Clyde, Dustin Hoffman for The Graduate, Paul Newman for Cool Hand Luke, and Spencer Tracy for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. I think the Academy made the right choice.
|Tibbs examines the hands of an early suspect.|
Warren Oates is officer Sam Wood, who comes under suspicion, and Lee Grant is the grieving widow. Both do their usual solid work. The part of Woods plays a bigger role in the novel by John Ball, as the story is told from his perspective. Composer Quincy Jones and the great Ray Charles collaborated on the bluesy theme, which opens the film with a wonderful shot of a train pulling into the station in the middle of the night. Though shot mostly in Illinois, the whole film captures the feel and look of the deep South. (Filming did include a quick trip to some cotton fields in Tennessee to add authenticity).
I don't suppose the people of Mississippi remember the film too fondly. They aren't presented in a favorable light. Hopefully, they've shown considerable progress in the last 45 years in their attitudes toward blacks.
|A deadly confrontation.|