“They call me Mister Tibbs”- Virgil Tibbs
In 1967, the bold and racially charged film In the Heat of the Night won the Oscar for Best picture. When all the meaning is stripped away from the film, In the Heat of the Night is a fast moving, well written murder mystery but the film is much more than just that. Pairing a Southern white police chief with an African American homicide detective from the North, the film takes an in depth look at racism as the title characters attempt to survive and solve a murder.
The film begins in Sparta, Mississippi with the discovery of the body of Mr. Colbert, a prominent business man who moved there to open a factory. Immediately the pressure is put on Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to solve the somewhat high profile murder. Meanwhile, the racist attitude of Sparta is exemplified early in the film as African American Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is arrested while waiting for a bus simply because he has a large amount of money in his pocket. Arresting officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates) is embarrassed to find out he arrested Philadelphia’s number one homicide detective. Reluctant to help the racist police chief, Tibbs is convinced to stay in Sparta and help when asked by the victim’s wife.
Forced to work together, Tibbs and Gillespie try to get along but it is difficult for Tibbs to trust the racist Gillespie and for Gillespie to believe in Tibbs. Their first and prime suspect is the wealthy plantation owner Eric Endicott (Larry Gates). During an interrogation, Tibbs manages to turn the entire town against him with a single slap, striking Endicott after Endicott slapped him. With Endicott seeing Tibbs as an enemy, Gillespie and Tibbs must solve the murder while dealing with relentless physical attacks from the racist inhabitants of Sparta.
Every portion of this film, from dialogue to directing, worked to make a number of strong statements about racism. Sometimes it was as simple as the use of a single word: boy. Gillespie was the main character that used the word the most. Originally it was what he called Tibbs as a racial slur but as the film went on and Gillespie came to respect Tibbs, he began calling his own men boy. The camera is also used to show the power struggle between Tibbs and the rest of the town. The first shift in power is shown when Tibbs examines the victim’s body. The camera stays tight on Tibbs’ hands throughout the scene, showing a close up of the African American hands examining the Caucasian body. From that point on the camera follows the shift in power as Gillespie begins to respect Tibbs.
By taking what is a first a very racist character, Gillespie, and pairing him with a brilliant African American homicide detective, In the Heat of a Night makes strong and sweeping statements about racism. A brilliantly put together film, In the Heat of the Night beat out Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and heavy hitters the Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde for Best Picture. Stirling Silliphant won Best Writing for the film and Rod Steiger received a well deserved Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Gillespie. Every aspect of this film was brilliant, working together to create a thrilling crime drama as well as a scathing expose on the truths of racism. This is a 9 out of 10 film for me, a classic that should be seen by all.
Any of you that have read a number of my posts may have picked up on the fact that I am quite a large Quentin Tarantino enthusiast, in fact I have been counting down the days to the release of Django Unchained for months now. Throughout his career, Tarentino has made a number of risky decisions when it comes to the content of his films but nothing was riskier than what he unleashed on the world when he created Django Unchained.
Set two years before the start of the Civil War, Django Unchained is the story of two unlikely business partners. Doctor King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a German bounty hunter, searching across Southern America for marks he can make money off of. When we first meet Dr. Schultz, he is searching for three men known as the Brittle brothers. Having never seen the brothers, Dr. Schultz enlists the help of a slave who has seen them, Django (Jamie Foxx) who quickly becomes Django Freeman when Schultz frees him. After travelling with one another, dispatching of the Brittle brothers and getting to know one another, Django and Schultz set up a deal. If Django travels with Schultz all winter and helps him with his bounties, Schultz will help save Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the control of the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Posing as two me who buy Mandingo fighters, people who buy slaves with the express purpose of having them fight to the death, Django and Schultz attempt to dupe Candie and save the German speaking, married slave named Broomhilda.
Quentin Tarantino took a risk while making this film, looking at the Old South and slavery in a way that could easily be seen as disrespectful. Many have asked how Tarantino had the right to make a film that was so arrogantly racist in its premise, script and concept. After seeing the film, I do understand how some people could have been upset and offended by it. I took the content of the film a different way, and while maybe this makes me ignorant, I saw a film that blatantly poked at and made fun of slavery. I mainly saw this in Doctor King Schultz, a man from another country who couldn’t seem to grasp the idea of slavery. The majority of the script written for Schultz consisted of quick witted, sharp tongued humor and a lot of the humor was derived from Schultz’s idea that slavery was ridiculous, a theme that carried throughout the film.
In my opinion, this film should come with a disclaimer for Quentin fans only. Django Unchained contained every aspect a Quentin Taranino film should contain: witty and dark humored dialogue, gratuitous violence, plenty of action and a cast of ridiculously outrageous characters including a hilarious cameo by Don Johnson as the plantation owner Big Daddy. Other cameos included Jonah Hill and Samuel L. Jackson as a house slave.
As far as the Oscar race goes, I could see a number of nominations being given to Django Unchained. Christof Waltz stole nearly every scene he was in, which was most of them, and the only time he wasn’t center of attention was when he shared the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio. Jamie Foxx did a great job as Django but Waltz and DiCaprio both shined with outstanding acting skill, giving them both the option of nomination. It was clearly Quentin who had his hands on the camera, the shots mirror his other films, but for a man to be able to tell such a story with just a camera always brings up the possibility of a nomination. Though it is a year filled with outstanding films, I think Django Unchainced has the possibility to earn itself a Best Picture nomination. I myself give the film an 8.5 out of 10. It is an example of outstanding work from Quentin Tarantino but if his over the top style isn’t always your favorite, then I would steer clear of this film.