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

Plot Synopsis (continued)

Very Early Wednesday Morning, September 14, 1966: About 2:00 am

In the next scene set in the middle of the night, the headlights of Officer Wood's police vehicle illuminated Tibbs - still determined to solve the case, and standing outside the police department door. Tibbs convinced Wood, shrewdly catering to his sense of independence without the Sheriff's permission, to retrace his patrol route the night of Colbert's murder: "Could you follow the same route you followed Tuesday night, same speed?"

A cake knife was inserted into the lock on the side of the Compton Cafe's juke box by counter-waiter Ralph Henshaw, to restart the machine and its music - after he had presumably robbed the machine of its coins. The song, "Foul Owl on the Prowl" (sung by Owens Boomer Castleman and Michael Martin Murphey) warned various "little birds" to avoid the "foul owl on the prowl":

Hoot. All you little birds better lock up tight, 'cuz there's a foul owl on the prowl tonight. Hey, little lark, get outta the dark, Foul owl on the prowl. Cute little jay, stay outta his way, Foul owl on the prowl. You just might be the quail he'll tail. Foul owl on the prowl. You just might be the swallow he'll follow, Foul owl on the prowl. lf you hear him hoot - scoot, lf you pass his tree - flee, lf you catch his eye - fly. Don't wait to say goodbye.

2:30 am

During the song when the officer's patrol car headlights approached, Ralph grinned as he deliberately hid a complete lemon meringue pie under the counter, to spite the officer. Wood explained that he had spent 10 minutes in the cafe enjoying a "king-sized coke with a wedge of pie." The Sheriff's car pulled up with an abrupt halt and parked, as Gillespie angrily chastised Tibbs for remaining in town: "I thought l told you to get the hell outta here....You forget about those four maniacs this afternoon?...Do l have to put you on the train myself?!" But Tibbs explained: "I'm not ready to leave...I need more time." Virgil explained his next strategy to solve the case: "I want to know exactly where Sam Wood was at all times on the night of the murder." The Sheriff was distressed by the danger Tibbs was placing himself in:

Virgil, if you get killed, we're gonna have one hell of a mess in this town. You know that?

Although Virgil wasn't allowed to order by the bigoted waiter Ralph, he still pursued his line of questioning with Officer Wood: "Tuesday night, you walked out of here at 2.40. Right?...Two minutes from now."

2:40 am

All three continued along Officer Wood's patrol route, in his car, after leaving the cafe. Tibbs noticed that Sam turned a sharp left one block before Delores Purdy's house - and he asked: "Why'd you do that, Sam...Change your route back there at the corner?" Tibbs exited the car after bidding the two goodnight, and vanished into the darkness as he walked away. From the back seat, Gillespie peered suspiciously at his deputy.

Early Wednesday Morning: 8:20 am

In Sparta's town bank before it opened, the Sheriff followed bank president Henderson (Kermit Murdock) into the dark office to fulfill a "highly irregular" yet "official" request - to look at a depositor's private account. Henderson insisted that the request be in writing "on a police department letterhead." In an old-fashioned file cabinet, it was determined that the account in question had been opened in September, 1962. A deposit had been made the previous day for $632 dollars.

Approximately 9:15 am

In the Sheriff's outer office, a group of deputies were gossiping amongst themselves, presumably already suspicious about reports of a large bank deposit made by Wood - allegedly with cash stolen from the murder victim. Courtney mentioned the Sheriff's long-standing distaste for Wood: "The Chief didn't like him, not even from the first." Tibbs entered the Sheriff's office with news that the FBI lab results would prove that Colbert was in Endicott's greenhouse ("Endicott's covering up"). The Sheriff chuckled: "I'm afraid you're a little late, Virgil. We already got the guilty man....Sam." Sam was seated in the office, without his uniform or gun. Tibbs was firm and decisive: "Our man is Endicott." Sam explained that the big cash deposit was the result of three years of "matchin' quarters and halves." The Sheriff was adamant about his guilt:

All I know is that the day Colbert was killed, he cashed a check for $900, $600 of which is missing, $300 of which l believe you left in the wallet as sucker bait for some poor kid like that Harvey Oberst!

Tibbs explained that he knew why Sam had changed his patrol route (to bypass Delores Purdy's house) and had lied about it, and that it had nothing to do with Colbert's murder - his hunch was based upon Harvey's tale told to him in the jail cell:

He was afraid l'd see some naked white girl down the block....Some girl named Delores Purdy. She parades around in the nude at night to get her kicks.

The Sheriff was certain he had his man: "I know that Colbert cashed a check for $900 dollars. I know that Sam made a big cash deposit. I know that you caught him in a lie. And l know that's enough for me." Sam was taken off to be locked up in the backroom jail cell. Tibbs again asserted: "You're making a mistake." The Sheriff urged Virgil to catch his mid-day train.

9:19 am

Suddenly, angry and suspicious Lloyd Purdy (James Patterson), accompanied by his sultry, teenaged brunette sister Delores, accentuating her figure in a tight sweater, arrived to see the Sheriff. Purdy intended to file formal charges against Wood for impregnating Delores: "She is gonna have a baby. Sam Wood's baby." When Tibbs entered, Purdy refused to talk any further with the black man in the room, but the Sheriff vouched for him as a police officer. Baby-doll Delores sat back in a large lounge chair (with a big taped X marking it), enjoying being the center of attention. The sexpot gave a detailed salacious, titillating version of a night of seduction at the cemetery with 'peeping tom' Sam on patrol:

Well, you know how hot it's been....The nights, they aren't any better. My brother works nights. He leaves me all alone. This particular night, l go out on the porch. I'm thinkin' how nice it'd be if l had a fountain drink. Sam comes down our road. Just like he comes every night, passin' like a lord in that fine, big, shiny car. Only, this time he stopped. He's got a nice face, don't ya think, Chief? (no answer) So he stopped. (softly) Yeah, and he says...(loudly) He says 'Hey, little girl, you know what the coolest spot in town is?' And l said 'No, Sam. I guess l don't.' And he said 'The cemetery. That's where.' 'Know why? 'Cuz they got all them big, cool tombstones. Ever stretch out on a tombstone, Delores? Feel all that nice, cool marble along your body?...Then l went for a ride with him... the cemetery.

She admitted, with lots of further prompting, that things "went too far." The Sheriff asked one more important question: "Did he force you, or did you let him?" - although because she was 16, it would be declared, according to Mississippi state law, a case of statutory rape. She insisted that she was pregnant. After Tibbs left the room, the racist Purdy was more offended about black officer Tibbs being in the room during Delores' interrogation than the rape. He vehemently complained: "You had no right to keep a nigger in the room, shame my little sister. You had no right." Meanwhile, Tibbs spoke to Harvey in the jail cell next to Sam, asking: "If a guy knocks up a girl in this town, where can he go for help?" Harvey's first response was the local barbershop to cut one's own throat. Then he mentioned:

There used to be a colored gal, uh, but she kept bumpin' her price, and l don't know if she's still in business.

According to Harvey, his friend Packy in the pool hall knew her name. Tibbs promised to bring Packy to the cell, with a cheeseburger, to tell them the abortionist's name and whereabouts.

Wednesday: Mid-Day

From behind bushes, a telephoto camera spied upon the front of the Purdy home, where Lloyd Purdy vengefully spoke to some toughs, and the assembled group drove off in two cars (one of which was the red Plymouth sedan that had harrassed Tibbs earlier).

The next scene was introduced by a tracking shot to the right, picking up the distant figure of Tibbs standing in a field - the site for Colbert's new factory. He bent down and picked up a two-foot long, two-inch thick pine sapling stake, one of the survey stakes with streamers that had been used by Colbert's killer as a makeshift clubbing weapon. It had dried blood stains on it. Snapping twigs signaled the approach of the Sheriff, who had followed him there. Tibbs explained his sleuthing and reconstructed the night of the murder, and also openly admitted his 'blind' bias about Endicott's guilt:

  • Colbert had been attacked from behind in the field (hit in the head by a wooden stake) by someone he had picked up in town after returning from Endicott's
  • Endicott was not the killer nor was Sam
  • The victim was killed by Colbert's unidentified passenger during their visit to the factory site, with a fatal blow to the head by a pine-wood stake, to steal cash from his wallet
  • Then the killer drove Colbert's rented car back into town (blood stains on the passenger seat from Colbert's head, and mud/root fragments on the brake pedal, now made sense), deposited the corpse in the alleyway (where Sam found it), and parked the car back at the hotel

I found a piece of wood in Colbert's scalp. The lab identified it as pine. Three people saw Colbert drive by their houses - alone - on the way back from Endicott's. Colbert must have picked up somebody in town and then come out here....He was hit from behind. If Delores Purdy hadn't come into your office, l never would have seen the truth. I was hung up trying to get Endicott, for personal reasons....You're holding the wrong man!...Because Colbert was killed here. Then driven back to town in his own car and dumped on the streets. Sam couldn't have driven two cars!

The Sheriff reluctantly allowed the determined Tibbs to remain on the case until the following morning. The two vehicles filled with toughs cruised through town looking for Tibbs, while drinking and armed with shotguns.

Wednesday: Evening

The following sequence was in Gillespie's modest home during the Philadelphia detective's rare visit for dinner. The two were exhausted (Gillespie suffered from insomnia), and the 37 year-old Sheriff was drinking many rounds of bourbon. He anointed Virgil as one of the "chosen few." In a rare confessional, he summarized what life was like in the hostile town, and that even his own town's residents oppressed him. The two realized their similarities - they were both unmarried, lived alone, faced pressures, and were often lonely:

Sheriff: You know, you know Virgil, you are among the chosen few.
Virgil: How's that?
Sheriff: Well, I think that you're the first human being that's ever been in here.
Virgil: Oh, yeah. You can't be too careful, man.
Sheriff:...I got no wife. I got no kids. Boy, I got a town that don't want me...I'll tell you a secret. Nobody comes here, never....
Don't you get just a little lonely?
Virgil: No lonelier than you, man.
Sheriff: Whoa, now, don't get smart, black boy. I don't need it. No pity, thank you. No, thank you!

Packy Harrison (Matt Clark), Harvey's friend, knocked on the door, looking for Virgil. Tibbs claimed to the Sheriff that he was still on the case until Thursday morning, and going "where whitey ain't allowed." Packy drove his truck to Bellamy's dilapidated grocery storefront in a poor, deserted and segregated section of town, and dropped off Tibbs. Inside the grimy store, Tibbs met with the local abortionist Mrs. Bellamy (aka Mama Caleba) (Beah Richards). He explained that he was there simply to ask for a man's name: "The man who's paying you for Delores Purdy's abortion."

When she suspected that he was working for the police, she objected: "Why you wanna do that? Why you wanna help the police like that? They stealin' your soul. They chew you up and spit you out." He stated his objective: "I'm not here to lay a finger on you, Mama. It's the white boy I want." She admitted that her function as an abortionist was to eliminate the white man's sin: "What you got against him? He's payin' for his fun." Tibbs noted how she was being exploited:

Tibbs:How much? I'll betcha he's not payin' ya more than $100. You know how much he's got in his pocket right now? More than $600!
Mama Caleba: (laughing) That cracker?! Where did he come off gettin' $600?
Tibbs: He killed Mr. Colbert.

He warned her that she might have to go to jail if she didn't divulge her white client's name:

Now listen. Hear me good, Mama, please. Don't make me have to send you to jail....There's white time in jail, and then there's colored time in jail, and the worst kind you can do is colored time.

She was conflicted about admitting to the crime of killing white babies during illegal back-room abortions. After urging for his "understanding" that she only performed abortions for whites to "better" her life, she admitted: "I don't know his name. But she's coming here tonight. Get herself straight." The door opened and Delores entered. When she saw the black man, she panicked and fled. He chased after her and grabbed her, but was confronted by her partner (the baby's father) - a gun-wielding man in the shadows, ordering: "Let go of her!"

The night-time altercation would soon bring all of the principal characters to assemble together and rapidly resolve the murder case. Tibbs stood face to face with Colbert's killer, and warned him about using a gun: "No club this time, man? A gun's not smart. The way you killed Colbert was much smarter." The gunman emerged - he was sleazy, dishonest diner counter-worker Ralph Henshaw. Tires squealed as the two cars filled with toughs drove up with beaming headlights. In the lead, Lloyd Purdy jumped out first to confront Tibbs with a shot-gun, with the mob behind him: "OK, nigger. Your time, nigger." Tibbs alerted them that Delores had $100 in her purse - funds that she had received for an abortion from Henshaw - the 'real father' of Delores' baby. Tibbs explained Henshaw's deception: "He got her to tell you that Sam Wood did it. He made a fool out of you, Purdy." Delores was enraged and cried out: "Liar! You stinkin' liar," but when the abortion money was discovered in her purse, Purdy turned on Henshaw:

You turned my little sister into a field slut?

Purdy was shot and killed by Henshaw before being disarmed and held by Tibbs.

Thursday Morning, September 15, 1966:

After Henshaw's apprehension and arrest, he was brought to the Sheriff's office where his confession was recorded on tape. Henshaw confessed that he had hitchhiked after leaving Delores' house to go to work at the diner, and murdered Colbert after hitchhiking when they visited the proposed factory site, to steal cash to pay for Delores' abortion. Afterwards, he drove the dead man's rented convertible back to the hotel parking lot. He claimed that it was merely an assault that went wrong:

That night, when l left her house, l was going to the diner, and Mr. Colbert drove by, so l hitched a ride with him, that's all. I said, 'l sure would like a job in that new factory once you get started.' And he said, 'Sure.' And l said, 'Well, l wonder where it was gonna be.' And he said, 'Well, that field we were comin' to right up here was it, and he was gonna stop and show me.' And I said to myself, 'Man, he's askin' for it.' I said, 'Now, Ralph, all you gotta do when we get out is just sneak up behind him and just tap him. And then just claim that somebody jumped us from the bushes.' That's all. I didn't mean to kill him.

Thursday Noon:

In the final memorable scene, after the crime was solved and the case closed, Gillespie drove Virgil to the train station depot, and then against all racial and social norms, carried Virgil's luggage for him. The two walked down the platform, shook hands and said goodbye, as Virgil was finally leaving town on the train to Memphis:

Sheriff: Well, got your ticket? (Gillespie handed him his luggage.) Here ya are. Thank you. (Gillespie offered his hand for a handshake - another moment of white-black skin contact.) Bye-bye.
Tibbs: Bye. (Gillespie walked away a bit as Tibbs climbed the stairs onto the train. He turned back.)
Sheriff: Virgil? (Tibbs looked back.) You take care, ya hear? (A faint smile crossed both their faces.)
Tibbs: Yeah. (Tibbs entered the train car.)

Conductor: All aboard!

As the train pulled away with Tibbs as a passenger (with a zoom-out helicopter shot), the title song was again reprised by Ray Charles.

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