Filmsite Movie Review
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)

Plot Synopsis (continued)

7:20 am

Back in Sparta as dawn arrived at about 7:20 am, Tibbs carried a well-wrapped brown paper bundle in his arms into the Police Department, holding "the examination results." Due to his quick departure, the Sheriff had been unable to speak to the surviving widow of the deceased, Leslie Colbert (Lee Grant), who was waiting in his office. Courtney informed Tibbs that she still didn't know about the murder. Although not allowed to enter the Sheriff's office, he entered anyway to speak to her - she was calm but wanted answers:

Where's my husband? What's happened to him? Why won't anybody here tell me what's happened to him? Why won't anybody here tell me? l have a right to know if he's hurt, if he's been in an accident. I want to know if my husband is all right!

Tibbs bluntly told her the truth - an unknown killer had murdered him. She took the news in shock, then slowly grasped the severity of the situation, started to sob, and took Tibbs' hand (probably a shocking moment for some white audiences) before asking to be alone to cry in private.

Sheriff Gillespie and his deputies noisily entered the department [an impossibility based on the previous timeline or chronology], claiming that they had found their suspect Harvey - now manacled -- and Tibbs would be of no further use: "Virgil, we don't need you or your microscopes anymore. You can tell that to your Chief. We don't need him - or you."

Tibbs was given permission to briefly scrutinize Oberst's handcuffed and bruised hands and arms - it was another uncomfortable examination performed on the humiliated white man. Tibbs listened as the ecstatic deputies described the exciting chase, until he asked them the obvious question: "The man you arrested, did he confess?" [Note: It was the same 'guilty until proven innocent' tactic used on Tibbs at the train station.] Officer Wood replied: "Well, l believe he will. Yes, siree, l believe he will." Tibbs had noticed that Harvey was left-handed ("southpaw"), and that fact alone would make him wrong-accused and "innocent!"

In Gillespie's office, the Sheriff and Mrs. Colbert studied the prisoner, and then she was asked if the dead man's wallet was her husband's - she nodded yes. The suspect was found with the emptied wallet in his possession when he was apprehended. Harvey denied his guilt:

I picked it up, I tell ya. He was already lyin' there. It was lyin' there next to him! I just picked it up, ma'am. That's all l did.

The Sheriff arranged for the widow to be driven over to Ulam's funeral home to complete her examination, and he ordered Officer Wood to drive Virgil to the depot. However, Wood chuckled as he informed Gillespie of Virgil's conclusion about the crime: "Uh, Virge here, Chief, he thinks that Harvey's innocent." Virgil theorized that Oberst had stolen the wallet after the murder: "Oberst could have come along after the crime, found it, picked it up" - repeating exactly the same explanation that Oberst had just given in the office. Tibbs went further to explain the false lead they were following -- southpaw Harvey couldn't have struck the fatal blow:

When l examined the deceased, it was obvious the fatal blow was struck from an angle of 17 degrees from the right, which makes it almost certain the person who did it is right-handed.

When Virgil confidently demonstrated his investigative and criminology skills and contradicted the prejudiced Sheriff, Gillespie couldn't help but insult him after being embarrassed and shown up:

Gillespie: Well, you're pretty sure of yourself, ain't you, Virgil. Virgil, that's a funny name for a n----r boy to come from Philadelphia. What do they call you up there?
Virgil: They call me Mister Tibbs.

The frustrated Gillespie was incensed and agaiin ordered Tibbs to leave town as soon as possible. Tibbs stared back and after a long look, picked up his suitcase and the parcel: "I'll have the FBI lab send you the report on this. Not that it'll make any difference." Gillespie grabbed at the bundle, but Tibbs wouldn't relinquish it ("I'm sending it in personally"). The distraught and grieving Mrs. Colbert was appalled by their behavior, finally reacted to the insanity, and confronted the entire group with a damning statement:

My God! What kind of people are you? What kind of a place is this? My husband is dead. Somebody in this town killed him! l want you to find out who!

When Tibbs again refused to give up the bundle, the Sheriff ordered him to be locked up "for withholding evidence" - in the same jail as Harvey Oberst. As Sam led him to incarceration, he congratulated him: "Well, Virgil, nobody threw your brains to the hogs, that's for damn sure." Even racist Harvey objected vehemently to being a cellmate with a black man, and glared at him: "What you doin' wearin' white man's clothes? Where you come from? You deaf or somethin'?" Tibbs cautioned against any more intimidation: "Keep cool, Harvey. I'm on your side....I'm all you got" - and revealed his police badge. Harvey felt compelled to explain his innocence a second time:

I already told 'em. I see this fella lyin' on the street there. And there's this wallet lyin' beside him. Boy, l mean, l come into this world outta luck. Here's the first good thing to come my way. And l pick it up. But when l see whose wallet it is - I mean, l start to sweat. But l heard about this new chief. This Gillepsbie? [mispronounced] Got no more smell than a turnip. So l cut across the fields, headin' for the line, and got myself as far as the bridge before Gillepsbie grabbed me.

After some more questioning, Tibbs determined that Harvey found the wallet after 2:00 am (according to the courthouse clock), and earlier the previous evening, he had been shooting pool at Larry's Lounge beginning at about 10:00 pm until 1:00 am closing time - with numerous witnesses who could vouch for his alibi. He admitted he had been in trouble with the police before, reprimanded for messing around with the town slut and exhibitionist Delores Purdy - who was also being pursued and eyed by peeping-tom Officer Wood:

Well, uh, this Delores, she, uh - she's real proud of what nature done for her, you know? And, uh - Well, we was on a date up to Clarke's Point, and, uh, she says, uh - (chuckled to himself) Anyway, she asks me, she says, uh: 'Don't you think l got a classy build?' And l say 'Sure.' And so she starts to show me. But, now, l didn't do nothin' wrong. I just didn't stop her from tryin' to prove her point. Then this cop, Sam Wood, comes chargin' outta the bush and hauls me in...Told me not to mess with her no more. She lives over on Third, about a block from me. Traipsin' around the house in the altogether and after dark, with the lights on. Now, somebody sure oughta make her stop doin' that.

Knowing now that Harvey wasn't lying, Tibbs asked him to hold out his right hand, took a sample from his fingernail - and gave a pleased smile.

7:35 am

The Sheriff and Officer Wood approached the cell at 7:35 am to reverse Tibb's incarceration and have him sign "a waiver for false arrest," but Tibbs refused: "Forget it." However, he was forced to sign, and then ordered to again leave town on the 12:10 pm train, with the bundle. Tibbs repeated his belief that the charges against Harvey had to be modified because of proven facts - Colbert was killed at about 12:30 pm, when Harvey was playing pool:

It wouldn't be a bad idea to change the charge against Oberst. He was nowhere near the scene of the crime, and l think he can prove it....There's cue chalk under his nails, not dried blood....One more thing. Colbert wasn't killed where the body was found... He was killed, then moved to Main Street.

Due to Tibbs' bombshell revelations, the Sheriff reluctantly ordered Courtney to change Harvey's charge of murder to petty theft.

Mid- or Late Morning:

Mayor Schubert (William Schallert) of Sparta phoned the Sheriff. In the next sequence after a drive through the southern town, Gillespie pulled up at the Sparta Equipment Company, a farm implement establishment, and entered a glass-partitioned office in the showroom, where the Mayor was engaged in conversation with Mrs. Colbert. She was complaining about the inept handling of the murder case, calling it "a cover-up arrest." The Sheriff admitted that the charges had already been dropped due to "insufficient evidence." Mrs. Colbert insisted - with a threat to pull out her husband's factory and investment in the town - that the Negro detective NOT be removed from the case:

If it wasn't for him, your impartial chief of police would still have the wrong man behind bars. I want that officer given a free hand. Otherwise, l will pack up my husband's engineers and leave you to yourselves.

After Mrs. Colbert left, the glib Mayor stressed two things to the Sheriff - solve the case quickly even if it meant stepping on some toes (i.e., Endicott), and begrudgingly use the Philadelphia "homicide expert" (who might helpfully solve the case, but could be blamed if he failed):

You mean you don't want him. But you do need him. Now look, Bill. Suppose he turns up the killer. He has no police power here. He's gonna have to hand him over on a platter, right?...And if he fails, you're off the hook, 'cuz it was Ms. Colbert's idea in the first place. See what l mean?...Works out all the way around, Bill. For all of us.

Before 12:10 pm:

Virgil was awaiting his 12:10 pm train at the depot, when the Sheriff slowly walked over to him on the deserted platform and explained the pressure imposed on him to follow Mrs. Colbert's blackmailing directive that Tibbs remain on the case. If he left, she would pull her husband's money out of Sparta. He baited Tibbs by mentioning how there would be a lot of lost jobs for "a lotta colored people" if he didn't remain to show the local, less talented police force how a real investigation was conducted. He shrewdly tricked, tempted, convinced and challenged the smart black detective to stay and help solve the murder case, by using his expert experience in police work and forensics:

Sheriff: Any reason why you have to leave today?
Virgil: There's lots of reasons.
Sheriff: Well, what would you say if l, uh, I asked you to stay for a while?
Virgil: No.
Sheriff: This town needs a factory, Virgil. Colbert come down from Chicago to build it. I hear they're gonna hire a thousand men. Half of them'd be colored. Know what that means?
Virgil: Probably got him killed.
Sheriff: That's what Mrs. Colbert thinks. She wants us to catch her a killer. No killer, no factory. Well, it's a lotta jobs for a lotta colored people. You follow me?
Virgil: I'm going home, man.
Sheriff: They're your people.
Virgil: Not mine - yours. You made this scene.
Sheriff: What do you want me to do? Do you want me to beg you? Is that what you're after?
Virgil: Look! I've had your town up to here.
Sheriff: Boy, it would give me a world of satisfaction to horsewhip you, Virgil!
Virgil: (laughing to himself) Well, my father used to say that. Ha. Even did once or twice.
Sheriff: Yeah, well, not enough to suit me. Now, you listen to me. Just once in my life, l'm gonna hold my temper. I'm tellin' ya that you're gonna stay here. You're gonna stay here if l have to go inside and call your Chief of Police, and have him remind you what he told you to do, but l don't think l 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 got such a big head that you could never live with yourself unless you could put us all to shame. Ya wanna know somethin', Virgil? I don't think that you could let an opportunity like that pass by.

The Sheriff turned to leave, and after a long pause, Virgil picked up his suitcase and followed after him. At a local, broken-down auto repair shop on the outskirts of town, Gillespie arranged with Negro owner Jess (Khalil Bezaleel), who was greasing under a vehicle, to make a car available for Virgil to use ("Give him somethin' that runs"). Jess was suspicious that a well-dressed black "policeman" was in Sparta. Virgil explained the circumstances:

They've got a murder they don't know what to do with. They need a whipping boy.

Jess chuckled when Virgil said he would find a motel. He picked up Virgil's suitcase and offered to house him, telling his wife Viola (Jazan Winona Wallace): "We got company."

Tuesday Afternoon:

In the town's all-white council meeting, Tom Watkins (Larry D. Mann), one of the city councilmen, warned about the presence of a black man in town: "You know what's gonna happen? He gonna get hisself killed. You watch and see he don't." Seated at the head of the table, the Mayor responded: "I'm aware of the risk, Tom. But, like it or not, we're stuck with him....You know damn well we didn't hire him off a homicide squad." Tom replied: "Not if the Chief here is right on the ball. Whaddya say, Chief? Ya got that old killer all lined up in your front sights, huh?" Gillespie replied: "I'm workin' on it." Tom ominously implied that the detective wouldn't survive long in the racist Sparta:

Yeah, well, it's gonna be his week. 'Cuz Colbert's only the start. I say this n----r won't live past Saturday.

Virgil entered the town's white-only Planters Hotel to question Mrs. Colbert and her aide Ted Appleton (Alan Oppenheimer) about her husband's enemies, as she was packing to leave. They gave a description of how Colbert's main opponent in building a factory in the county was insolent, racist conservative Eric Endicott (Larry Gates), a wealthy cotton plantation owner who had a strong motive to kill the progressive Colbert. He and his company, Endicott Cotton Co., were threatened by the prospect of losing workers to the new employer. Virgil learned that Colbert had left the hotel by himself, the night of the murder, at around 11:00 pm. Tibbs went out to examine Colbert's convertible parked in the hotel parking lot, rented by Colbert during his visit. There were dried bloodstains on the back of the passenger seat. On the brake pedal, he discovered mud fragments and a dried-up piece of osmundine (fern root). He deduced: "Whoever killed Colbert drove this car last night." Virgil persuaded the Sheriff to drive him to Eric Endicott's place to question him.

With a reprise of the title song, the Endicott cotton plantation was introduced by views of some of the vast cotton fields, where black workers were bent over hand-picking the left-over cotton balls alongside mechanized cotton harvesters. The Sheriff and Virgil drove down a dusty country road toward the owner's estate, as Gillespie prejudicially jabbed: "None of that for you, huh, Virgil?" but Tibbs remained expressionless. After entering the driveway and parking, the two walked past a statue of a black lawn jockey (touched by the Sheriff) to the front-columned porch. They were greeted and led by elderly, formally-dressed black butler Henry (Jester Hairston) to the mansion's greenhouse. The cultured Endicott, an orchid fancier, was wearing an apron and cross-pollinating plants when they arrived amidst an array of flowers - in pots on tables and in hanging baskets. When Tibbs was asked what flower was his favorite, he stated the epiphytics - a display of his extensive knowledge. Endicott replied with biased paternalistic sentiment about how rootless and subservient blacks needed care like flowers:

Because, like the Negro, they need care and feedin' and cultivatin', and that takes time. That's somethin' you can't make some people understand. That's somethin' Mr. Colbert didn't realize.

When Tibbs reached for a pot and pulled out some of its mossy root substance (the same found on the brake pedal of the murder victim's car), Endicott added that epiphytics thrived on being planted in fern root: "They thrive on it. Take it away from them, they do poorly." An uncomfortable and impertinent question was politely asked by Tibbs about Endicott's well-known antipathy and opposition towards Mr. Colbert's factory project - Endicott was insulted by the black man's insinuations of guilt. Tibbs courteously explained the rationale for questioning the autocratic plantation owner:

Well, your, your attitudes, Mr. Endicott, your points of view, are a matter of record. Some people - well, Iet us say the people who work for Mr. Colbert - might reasonably regard you as the person least likely to mourn his passing. We were just trying to clarify some of the evidence. Was Mr. Colbert ever in this greenhouse? Say, last night, about midnight?

For his insolence, white murder suspect Eric Endicott slapped Tibbs across the face with his open palm. For once, Tibbs responded without his usual rigidity and repressed reserve and self-control. He reflexively exchanged a rapid, angry, even harder back-hand slap to Endicott's face. The Sheriff who was watching the entire altercation was frozen in shock by the nervy physical exchange, when Endicott taunted: saw it....Well, what are you gonna do about it?

Without a response from Gillespie about the confrontation, Endicott delivered his own lethal threat against Tibbs: "There was a time when I could have had you shot." Tibbs wheeled around and stormed out of the greenhouse, followed by the Sheriff. They both passed by the astonished black servant bearing a tray with glasses of lemonade. Endicott was left visibly shaken and on the verge of tears.

When they reached the Sheriff's police car, Gillespie was livid and vowed to get Tibbs out of town, while Tibbs also felt racially-motivated to bring down "fat cat" Endicott:

Sheriff: You better damn clear out - and l mean fast!
Tibbs: What about that big speech you gave me this morning?
Sheriff: I didn't know you were gonna slap any white man! Least of all Endicott!
Tibbs: All right. Give me another day. Two days. I'm close. I can pull that fat cat down. I can bring him right off this hill!

In retrospect [Endicott was innocent of any crime], it appeared that bias and prejudice were clouding the judgment of both the Sheriff and Tibbs, who suspected - wrongly - that Endicott was the killer. When Tibbs pleaded with the Sheriff to keep him on the case to obsessively pursue Endicott, the Sheriff accused him of reverse prejudice and discrimination - the film's most devastating moment of clear insight:

Oh, boy. Man, you're just like the rest of us. Ain't ya?

Still Tuesday Afternoon:

Later with the Sheriff, the Mayor blamed himself for the town's problems, but the Sheriff's job was the one in jeopardy: "It's all my fault. But there's no point in duckin' it, Bill. It's gonna be tough to keep you in your job now. Now looky here, Bill. I don't have to tell you how urgent it is to get Tibbs outta town." The Sheriff agreed, and they both thoughtfully decided to hurriedly solve the case before Mrs. Colbert's return on Thursday: "You catch your guilty party by then, she's not gonna hold it against us we had to send Tibbs home for his own good. But you gotta do it, you hear?" The pressure was on for the Sheriff to wrap everything up and rid the town of Tibbs. And then the Mayor questioned Gillespie about his changed feelings for Tibbs, and why he didn't defend Endicott, the town's esteemed citizen:

What's made you change your mind about Tibbs?...The last chief we had, he'd have shot Tibbs one second after he slapped Endicott, claim self-defense.

Feeling threatened, the Sheriff immediately contacted his office to again order Tibbs to the train depot. Courtney informed him that Tibbs had left town headed toward River Road where the planned factory was to be built. On the way, Tibbs' car was pursued by a honking red Plymouth sedan (with a front Confederate plate) carrying four white-trash tough hooligans, who were presumably hired by Endicott to harrass the uppity black man with vigilante violence. They yelled out: "Come on, n----r!" Their sedan bumped into Tibbs' back chrome bumper, then pulled alongside and attempted to force Tibbs off the road into a ditch. Meanwhile, the Sheriff sped in his squad car along the same road and chased after them. The two cars entered into the town's garbage dump where trash was being burned and scavengers searched through the rubbish. Tibbs drove through the dump toward a railway round house and jumped out of his car to hide inside, but was confronted by the group and entrapped. Two of the toughs (Phil Adams and Nikita Knatz) were threatening to whip him with a jangling chain and metal bar, and slowly moved in for the assault:

Toughs: OK, black boy. We come here to teach you some manners. (Tibbs grabbed a piece of metal pipe to defend himself) Now, we told you about them bad manners, boy. You better put that down.
Tibbs: Why don't you come and get it, big boy?
Toughs: (taunting as they surrounded Tibbs) Come on, man, you ain't nothin'. Come on. Let's get him. (One tough gestured with the chain) Put that around your neck. Get him. Get him. Hit him, man! Come on!

Tilted angles captured the confrontation, as Tibbs artfully defended himself by swinging his round metal pipe at them. Suddenly, the Sheriff walked in on the uneven match-up - he watched for a moment, and then shouted: "All right, hold it! All right, boys. You had your fun. Now go on and just run along home." As the four toughs slowly moved toward the exit, one of them name-called the Sheriff a "n----r-lover!" Another tough added a warning: "Get rid of the n----r. You don't, we will." After the insult, Gillespie swiftly grabbed the second tough's chain, took him by the shirt, slapped him, and asked: "Now, is that a suggestion, or is that an order?" He also punched the first tough in the stomach, who crumpled onto the floor, and again ordered all of them out. As Tibbs stormed out without speaking to the Sheriff, Gillespie yelled out a question, implying that Tibbs had better leave town for his own safety:

Well, you kind of get the message, Virgil?!

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