In the Heat of the Night (***1/2) is probably the best known film in the set. HereSidney Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, Philadelphia homicide detective. Waylaid in a smallMississippi town, he battles racism and his own arrogance as he both clashes and cooperates withPolice Chief Rod Steiger in a murder investigation. Directed by Mr. Concerned Cinema himself,Norman Jewison, the film can hardly be taken seriously, what with all the inhabitants of Sparta,with only the par…ial exception of Steiger, being depicted as slack-jawed cartoons from thebrackish end of the gene pool. The entertainment value is high, though, in seeing Poitier’ssupercompetent Tibbs giving everyone what-for.
They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (**1/2) jettisons the racial angle of In the Heat ofthe Night (which was that film’s reason for being) and is instead a fairly ordinary urban copfilm. Tibbs has inexplicably transformed from an unmarried Philadelphia loner to a SanFrancisco family man as he investigates a murder that implicates his friend Martin Landau, aminister crusading for the little guy. This second entry in the Tibbs franchise is about as ordinaryas a 70s crime film gets.
The series ends more strongly with The Organization (***), wherein Tibbsreluctantly cooperates with a group of vigilantes trying to bring down a huge international drugcartel. Though wildly improbable, the film is consistently suspenseful, and its strong actionscenes build to a muscular climax.
After three movies spent in the company of the largely humourless Virgil Tibbs, Lilies ofthe Field (****) is a welcome change of pace, showcasing Poitier’s considerable flare forcomedy. He won his first Oscar in this role of an itinerant handyman who runs across a group ofEast German nuns in the Arizona desert. In spite of himself, he is dragooned into building achapel for them. This plot may not sound like blockbuster material, but the film came out ofnowhere to become a huge hit in 1963, and it’s easy to see why. Unabashedly sentimental, butbracingly witty (thanks largely to the constant humourous collisions between Poitier andinflexible mother superior Lilia Skala), the film is thoroughly engaging (despite one too manyreptitions of a gospel hymn Poitier teaches the nuns).
The least known film in the package is undoubtedly For Love of Ivy (***). Here ayoung Beau Bridges and his sister connive to keep their maid Ivy (Abbey Lincoln) from leaving.Through somewhat torturous logic, they decide that the way to do this is to blackmail Poitier intoromancing Ivy. Poitier is anxious to avoid exposure as one of the owners of a trucking firmwhere the trucks are actually roving casinos. (This bit is very confusingly conveyed; there isnever the slightest suggestion of motion when we are inside the casino, which is supposedlybarelling down the freeway.) In spite of himself, Poitier beings to fall for Lincoln. Though thefilm gets off to an unpromising start, Poitier’s easy wit and relaxed charisma carry the day.
Mono sound across the board. It’s good enough to get by, but is far from perfect. Hiss ispresent to varying degrees throughout. Most of the time the sound is clear enough, but ForLove of Ivy has some very muzzy moments.
The picture quality is variable. All the trasnfers are widescreen (ranging from 1.66:1 to1.85:1), but only the first two Tibbs films are anamorphic. The prints are in good shape, andIn the Heat of the Night and Lilies of the Field have the sharpest pictures, withvery strong colours in the former and excellent B&W for the latter. The other films tend moretowards the murky and the grainy in night sequences (though they are never disastrous). They arealso softer, with For Love of Ivy being the worst of the bunch, being plague by break-uparound the edges as well as noticeable enhancement.
Only In the Heat of the Night has any special features of any worth. The other filmshave nothing except their theatrical trailer (though For Love of Ivy has nothing at all). Ontop of the trailer, In the Heat of the Night has some brief liner notes (the “collectiblebooklet” the case boasts about) and a commentary by Jewison, DP Hdaskell Wexler, Lee Grantand Rod Steiger), mostly recorded separately. Lots of good background and behind-the-scenesinfo here. This disc’s menu has an animated and scored intro and main screen, while all the otherdiscs have basic menus.
This boxed set is hardly a deluxe collection. These are very bare-bones discs bundled into asingle box. Furthermore, some of Poitier’s greatest roles are unrepresented. Still, all the filmsmake for interesting viewing, and having all the Tibbs films in one place is neat, suggeestinginteresting comparisons with their contemporaries, the Dirty Harry movies.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary on In the Heat of the Night
- Liner Notes for In the Heat of the Night