"You’re so damn smart! You’re smarter than any white man. You’re just going to stay here and show us all. You got such a big head that you could never live with yourself unless you could put us all to shame...."
Description: Rod Steiger as small town white Police Chief Bill Gillespie clashes with big city black detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) in the motion picture In the Heat of the Night (1967).
Virgil Tibbs is an African-American police detective from Philadelphia. While in the town of Sparta, Mississippi, to visit his mother, Tibbs is arrested while waiting for a departing train and brought to hot-tempered Police Chief Bill Gillespie for questioning. In Casablanca style ("round up the usual suspects") Gillespie's deputies rounded up the usual black men, and Tibbs conveniently fit that racist profile.
Tibbs is brought before Chief Gillespie who asks, "What's your name, boy?" When Virgil tells his name, he chuckles at the "Virgil" part and then asks, "What's a northern boy like you doing all the way down here?" Tibbs explains he is a police officer, but a suspicious Gillespie calls Tibbs' commanding officer in Philadelphia to verifies his story.
GIllespie learns that Tibbs is their number one homicide expert and in a spirit of cooperation, the PPD would be glad to have Virgil help with their latest murder case. As Bill ends his phone conversation with Tibbs' supervisor, Gillespie sarcastically says, "I do want to thank you for offering such a powerful piece of manpower as Virgil Tibbs."
|Gillespie:||How much they pay you to do their police work?|
|Tibbs:||A hundred and sixty-two dollars, and thirty-nine cents per week.|
|Gillespie:||A hundred and sixty-two dollars and thirty-nine cents a week? Well boy! Sam, you take him outside but treat him nice, because a man that makes a hundred and sixty-two dollars and thirty-nine cents a week, we do not want to ruffle him!|
With the issue of Tibbs' identity resolved, Virgil whose pride is already ruffled refuses to help Gillespie. Before he leaves, he Virgil insists "They call me MISTER Tibbs!" to gain the respect he deserves. Gillespie replies, "Mr. Tibbs! Well Mr. Woods take Mr. Tibbs! Take him down to the depot and I mean boy like now!"
In need of a real expert, Gillespie finds Virgil at the train depot and pleads in his own way to have Tibbs stay and investigate the murder of Mr. Colbert, a wealthy man from Chicago who was planning to build a factory in Sparta, Mississippi. Without the factory, 1000 potential workers, half of them "colored" will lose out on the employment opportunity. Mr. Colbert's widow threatened to not build the factory in Sparta, if Gillespie did not uses Tibbs on the case. "No killer, no factory."
When Virgil shouted "I've had your town up to here!", Gillespie barks back, "Boy, it would give me a world of satisfaction to horse whip you, Virgil!" Tibbs laughs at the boast, because his own father would say the same thing to him, and did once or twice. Gillespie replies, "Well not enough to suite me." Then Gillespie tells Virgil:
"Just once in my life, I'm gonna hold my temper. I'm telling you that you're gonna stay here. You're gonna stay here if I have to go inside and call your chief of police and have him remind you of what he told you to do. But I don't think I have to do that, you see? No, because you're so damn smart. You're smarter than any white man. You're just gonna stay here and show us all. You've got such a big head that you could never live with yourself unless you could put us all to shame. You wanna know something, Virgil? I don't think that you could let an opportunity like that pass by." - Chief Bill Gillespie [to Tibbs]
Virgil decides to stay in Sparta and help with the murder investigation. While speaking to black auto mechanic named Jess (Khalil Bezaleel), he mentions he is going to stay in a motel, but Jess knows Virgil will never get lodging because he is black, so he grabs Virgil's bag and yells to wife, "Viola...We got company."
Following a lead, Virgil approaches a wealthy plantation owner, Eric Endicott (Larry Gates) as he attends to his flowers in his hot house. Endicott opposed Mr. Colbert's plan to build a factory in Sparta. Insulted at being suspected of murder, Endicott slaps Virgil in the face. Virgil immediately slaps the man back. The privileged white man is shocked and looks to Gillespie for support, but he just lets the matter rest. The man expected Bill to take Virgil out and shoot him, like in the good old days, but times were a changing. Later, Sparta's Mayor Webb Schubert (William Schallert) tells Chief Gillespie, "Last Chief we had...he'd have shot Tibbs one second after he slapped Endicott, claim self-defense."
In the end, after being attacked by a group of hoodlums sent by a vengeful Endicott, and another group sent by Lloyd Purdy (James Patterson), who resented a black man being present while his sister Delores was interrogated at the police station, Virgil uncovers a man named Ralph Henshaw (Anthony James) as the real killer. He had attempted to rob Mr. Colbert to gain money to pay for Delores' abortion but accidentally killed him. When Tibbs proves it was Henshaw that got Purdy's sister pregnant, he attacks Henshaw who kills Purdy in self defense.
Previously, Henshaw, a counterman at a local restaurant, had refused to serve Tibbs when came to eat with police Sergeant Sam Wood (Warren Oates), whom Chief Gillespie had suspected of being involved in the murder. He was accused of getting Lloyd Purdy's 16-year-old sister Delores (Quentin Dean) pregnant. But Tibbs proved him innocent of that crime, but Wood was guilty of being a Peeping Tom, a fact that Tibbs decided to keep quiet to avoid embarrassment to the police department.
With the crime solved, Chief Gillespie comes to the train station to say goodbye. Now more respectful of Tibbs as a police officer and as a man, Gillespie bids Virgil farewell as he boards the train for Philadelphia.
Note: In the Heat of the Night (1967) was remade as a TV series (1988-1995) with Carroll O'Connor (formerly Archie Bunker on ALL IN THE FAMILY) as Bill Gillespie, the Chief of Police in the sleepy southern town of Sparta, Mississippi. Howard E. Rollins Jr. co-starred as
black Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs.