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Film: In the Heat of the Night

"They call me Mister Tibbs!"
Det. Virgil Tibbs

A 1965 novel by John Ball, In the Heat of the Night also spawned a film and a television series. The film version, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, was the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1967.

On his way back home after visiting his mother, Black Philadelphian Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is arrested on suspicion of the murder of a prominent factory owner in Sparta, Mississippi. In his one phone conversation, he reveals that he's actually a homicide detective back 'up North', and is told by his superiors that he should assist the locals in solving the case — partnered with the casually racist Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Steiger). It's a rocky start to the partnership, but the more Tibbs displays his detective prowess, the more Gillespie comes to respect him. Working together, and fighting together against the truly rabid racism of some of the local rednecks, they solve the case.

The TV series picks up twenty years on, with a newly-married Tibbs moving to Sparta after his mother's death. Turns out that at her funeral he was signed on as Chief of [nonexistent] Detectives by the town's opportunistic mayor. It's the 'New South', and everyone's anxious to seem racially progressive. Except, initially at least, Gillespie and his new (not to say considerably younger and hunkier) squad of flatfoots. Also, of course, several dozen bad guys.

Ran six seasons. It was kept interesting by brilliant casting choices Carroll O'Connor and Howard Rollins.

This film contains examples of:

  • Angry Black Man: Tibbs has every reason for his patience to be tested, and he later admits that his anger got him on the wrong track for a bit.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Mama Caleba, the town abortionist.
  • Book Ends: Tibbs arriving in town by train, Tibbs leaving town by train.
  • California Doubling: Though the film is set in Mississippi, the '60s political climate necessitated filming in Illinois.
    • Specifically, Poitier refused to shoot south of the Mason-Dixon line. Why? Because of an unpleasant experience some months earlier involving himself, Harry Belafonte, and a group of friendly Klansmen. (A few scenes were, however, shot in Tennessee — most notably Endicott's cotton field, which Illinois couldn't provide.)
  • Character Tics: Gillespie chews gum constantly.
  • Deep South
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Gillespie - seriously, don't, he gets scary.
  • False Rape Accusation: Or statutory rape, anyway. Delores Purdy accuses Sam Wood of impregnating her to cover for Ralph Henshaw.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Tibbs, disembarking from the train during the opening credits. We don't see his face (or see him again at all) until some ten minutes into the film.
  • Heat Wave: It's summer in Mississippi, after all.
  • London England Syndrome: When they first meet, Tibbs tells Gillespie he's from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia, Mississippi.
  • Momma's Boy: The reason Tibbs was in Sparta in the first place was that he was on his way back from visiting his mother.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Gillespie starts out as one. By the end of the movie, he can hardly even be called a bigot.
    • Tibbs briefly slips into this territory for a moment as well, enraged from being slapped by a plantation owner:
      Tibbs: I can pull that fat cat down and bring him right off this hill!
      Gillespie: Oh, boy... Man, you're just like the rest of us, ain't ya?
  • Odd Couple: Gillespie and Tibbs.
  • The Peeping Tom: Officer Sam Wood stops on his nightly patrol route to gawk at Delores Purdy, who parades around her kitchen in the nude.
  • Police Are Useless: Sparta police, anyway (unless you're interested in arresting the wrong man). No wonder Mrs. Colbert insists on keeping Tibbs around.
    • However, it's explained that Sparta hadn't had a murder in ages, and the small-town tactics they employ doesn't cover the severity of the case. Gillespie is competent in things like chasing down suspects, but figuring out a murder requires the forensics skills that Tibbs knows by heart.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The novel's Mr. Tibbs was a polite, non-confrontational African American; the film's Mr. Tibbs, on the other hand, is much more assertive towards the bigots around him.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Tibbs' best-known line qualifies.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Gillespie, of all people. Despite his racism, he's pissed to find out that his men just arrested a cop. And in his own way he more or less begs Tibbs for his help, acknowledging that he and his fellow cops can't solve a murder this complicated on their own.
  • Red Herring: The racially charged environment had nothing to do with the murder. It was just a mugging gone wrong.
  • Salt and Pepper: Gillespie and Tibbs, again.
  • Sequel: Poitier reprises his role in They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971), both of which are set in San Francisco and feature more of a Blaxploitation flavor.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Gillespie isn't too thrilled to have Tibbs second-guessing him during the early part of the investigation. But when Tibbs keeps getting proved correct, Gillespie lets up on the animosity. For his part, Tibbs doesn't help ease tensions as he withholds key observations at times and keeps trying to lead the investigation his way.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: The Trope Namer.
  • Title Theme Tune: Performed by Ray Charles.
  • Wham Line:
    Gillespie: Now, just what do you do there in little ol' Pennsylvania to earn that kinda money?
    Tibbs: I'm a police officer!
    • Later on, when Gillespie suspects his deputy Sam of the murder, Tibbs delivers a line which shakes the former:
      Tibbs: Sam couldn't have driven two cars.
  • Wrongly Accused: Tibbs is but the first of several people falsely blamed for the murder.

The TV series contains examples of:

  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: The two-parter "A Small War" has a gang of these coming from the "big city" of Jackson (the state capital) and setting up shop in Sparta, especially among the high school kids.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: City Councilwoman Harriet DeLong and Chief Gillespie date and eventually marry in season 6. Of course, this being small-town Mississippi, their union brings a lot of disapproval, drama, and death threats.
  • Butt Monkey: Parker.
  • California Doubling: The TV series was still set in Mississippi, but was filmed in Louisiana for the first season, and then in Covington, Georgia for seasons 2-6.
  • Calling The Hero Out: Gillespie (Carroll O' Connor) has to pull Tibbs (Howard Rollins) off of a man after said man messes with Tibbs' wife Althea (Anne Marie Johnson).
  • Channel Hop: From NBC (1988-92) to CBS (1992-94).
  • Chase Scene: Bordering on Once an Episode, to the extent where it's cheerfully lampshaded in later seasons.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Gillespie had an affair with a woman who married another man and left Sparta. She was pregnant and never told him. He meets his daughter when her mother is murdered.
  • Deep South: Played up even more than in the movie, by way of contrasting old attitudes with new.
  • Domestic Abuse: One episode combines this with Parental Abandonment. A woman kills her abusive husband, flees to another city where she changes her name and gets a new life, all while she left her daughter behind in an empty house. Also the episode, "Love, Honor, Obey"
  • Driven to Suicide: In the episode "Fairest Of Them All", a young pageant contestant kills herself over threats from a rival's mother to reveal the girl's dark secrets (that friend's mom had engineered, as it happened). Another episode has a teenage girl's suicide attempt leading to the revelation that her grandfather had been molesting her, after years of doing the same to her mother.
  • Drugs Are Bad: a few episodes focus on this (it was the 90's) and how it's destroying Sparta, but the most compelling one is "Cracked" where a young teen (she was 13) tries crack, gets hooked, and dies.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Chief Gillespie's daughter
  • Put on a Bus: Eventually, Rollins was fired about his drug busts, so Tibbs became a lawyer and left Sparta to pursue his new career.
  • Rape as Drama: Althea is brutally assaulted by a misogynistic coworker. The rape isn't forgotten about after one episode—although she recovers and moves on, it remains a permanent part of her psyche and years later, contributes to an offscreen separation from her husband.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: An unfortunate series of interruptions in both leads' careers — O'Connor's heart surgery, Rollins' struggles with addiction — led to one or the other of their characters frequently being away at 'conventions' or 'seminars'.
  • Recycled: The Series
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: averted as Althea is a social worker and many episodes involve her helping the police with talking to the family members of victims, helping the kids at Sparta High, and random people in the community. Social Services is called in (from the big city of Jackson) as the plot requires, usually in the case of abandoned children.
  • Stage Mom: The aforementioned "Fairest of Them All" features one of these so determined that her daughter win a local pageant that she arranges for someone to drug the girl's chief rival, take nude pictures of her, then threaten to leak the photos to the press unless the girl drops out of the pageant.
  • Teen Pregnancy: one episode has a girl concealing her pregnancy and when she has the baby, throws it in a dumpster and it dies.
  • The Nineties
  • Victim of the Week

The Novel contains examples of:

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I Love LucyCreator/CBSThe Incredible Hulk
The Silence of the LambsAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)Forrest Gump
I'm Gonna Git You SuckaCreator/United ArtistsInherit the Wind
SabrinaNational Film RegistryAlien
In Cold BloodFilms of the 1960sThe Jungle Book
I Dream of JeannieCreator/NBCIronside
Intelligence (2014)American SeriesIn Treatment

alternative title(s): In The Heat Of The Night
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