San Francisco Police Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs is called in to investigate when a liberal street preacher and political candidate is accused of murdering a prostitute. Tibbs is also battling domestic woes, including a frustrated wife and a rebellious adolescent son.
"You should've stuck to visiting old ladies."
Making a sequel to a classic film is always a risky proposition. On one hand you want to know what happens to the characters after the finish of the previous film, but on the other hand you don't want a followup that fails to live up to the first. Sometimes, it's better to leave things well enough alone. As tempting as it would be to have done a sequel to something like 'Casablanca' it just wouldn't be the same. Sadly, 'In the Heat of the Night' is one of those movies that just didn't need 'They Call me Mister Tibbs!' to come along. Even a charismatic actor like Sidney Poitier can't salvage this dull mystery.
A San Fransisco prostitute is viciously strangled and then beaten over the head by a statue in her apartment. After her pimp Rice (Anthony Zerbe) fingers the liberal activist Reverend Logan Sharp (Martin Landau) for the crime, Detective Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) answers the call and starts to put the pieces together. The only problem with this particular crime is that the good Reverend is an old friend of Virgil's.
Ever the vigilant believer in the law, Virgil must work to put the pieces of the puzzle together while keeping his personal feelings for his friend out of the picture. As he struggles to disprove his friend's apparent guilt, Virgil is faced with mounting unrest at home. His career requires long hours that force him to routinely miss dinners and in the process alienate his wife, as well as his young daughter and his rebellious son. Virgil must put his life back together while he tries to prove or disprove his friend's guilt.
On paper, this should be one hell of a crime drama. As a film, woof is it a dog. Considering the compelling circumstances of the case, I don't think this movie could be any slower or less thrilling! Where does this one go so wrong? Part of the problem is the script by Alan Trustman and the direction by Gordon Douglas. The pacing of this film is just so sluggish. Whenever the film takes place on a closed set, the whole scene feels like a videotaped rehearsal rather than the genuine article. Where Virgil looks like a shrewd and cunning man in 'In the Heat of the Night,' here he just wonders around pointing at things that could be clues. And even then those things that could be clues don't go anywhere interesting.
Then there are numerous red herrings peppered throughout the film. The most egregious of this involves Ed Asner as a crooked landlord. As someone that could be a suspect, Asner's character immediately goes on the run leading to an excruciatingly dull and uninteresting chase sequence that doesn't involve Tibbs in any tangible way beyond turning knobs on a radio or picking up the phone at his desc. After a solid ten minutes of wasted screen time, Asner's character is immediately cleared of the crime. And that's basically how this investigation goes down. One by one a new suspect comes up and is immediately exonerated leaving very little doubt at any given time who the real killer is.
Then there is the undercooked B plot involving Tibbs' home life. As something we didn't get to see anything of in the first film, this should also have been a compelling part of Tibbs' character. Only it's so paper thin it has absolutely no barring on the main story in any way. He's regularly late for dinner so his wife is mad at him. Got it. His daughter is desperate for his attention so she stands on her head. Check. His son doesn't really know his father so he sneaks cigarettes, watches TV, and... dun dun dun... plays the guitar. Gasp!
This leads me to another problem with this film and why it could never, ever live up to the original. There isn't any kind of genuine social commentary. 'In the Heat of the Night' was brilliant in its depiction of racial prejudices from both sides of the issue. You had the racist police department and citizenry of the rural southern town and then you had Tibbs' own prejudices that had to be worked past in order to find the real killer. Nothing like that happens here. Reverend Sharp talks a big talk about equality and makes fliers ahead of an election, thats about as far as it goes.
Then there's the cast. It's clear that everyone is trying their best, but their characters - even Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs - are so thin that they get little of anything substantial to do. Of everyone starring in this film, it appears that Anthony Zerbe is the only other one beyond Poitier committed to creating a memorable character. Landau's Reverend Sharp easily could have been a compelling character, but so much of the movie is spent without him around, it's actually easy to forget he's the police's number one suspect and the best friend to the lead character.
At best, 'They Call Me Mister Tibbs!' could have served as a half-way decent TV movie of the week sort of sequel. A movie where low production values, underdeveloped plot lines, and shoddy story structure could have been forgiven. As a well-budgeted feature film, the results are just a sad reminder that some movies never should have had sequels. I know some people are fans of this one, so that gave me hope going into it, but in the end I came away disappointed.
This film was followed by the vastly improved 'The Organization'.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'They Call Me Mister Tibbs!' makes its arrival on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber on a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
For a film well over 40 years of age, 'They Call Me Mister Tibbs!' makes for an impressive Blu-ray debut with this 1.85:1 1080p transfer. That isn't to say that there isn't ia fair share of age related issues - print wear creeps in from time to time in the form of nicks, specks, and an occasional fine scratch. With grain retained, the detail levels for this picture are fantastic. Every seam of fabric, skin pore, and even the individual hairs on Ed Asner's toupee can be seen with absolute clarity. Black levels and shadows are very strong most of the time allowing for a lot of dimensional pop with minimal crush issues. Colors and flesh tones are for the most part very strong however due to some apparent brightening of the image, things can look a little too pale from time to time. There appears to have also been some digital sharpening applied to the film in some places making me wonder if this wasn't a dated master from the previous DVD release? Because of this sharpening, banding is present whenever anyone wears any clothing with a distinctive busy pattern to it. All around this is a very good transfer for a catalogue title of this vintage, so any issues are easily forgiven and forgotten.
'They Call Me Mister Tibbs!' certainly doesn't have to shout to be heard with this strong DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. All around everything this film has to offer comes through with terrific clarity. Sound effects, dialogue and the awesome score from the one and only Quincy Jones get plenty of room to breathe helping each scene feel real and full of atmosphere. Since the vast majority of the film is occupied by dialogue, the sound rarely moves from the midranges, save for the car chase and a late second act shootout sequence. Even then, sound effects like gunshots and screeching tires feel under control. I'm gonna to go ahead and mention the Quincy Jones score one more time - just because it was so damn cool! Whomever he had riding bass guitar had a great time, I loved listening to my subwoofer try to keep up.
In the Heat of the Night Trailer: (HD 2:24) A classic movie gets a classic trailer.
They Call Me Mister Tibbs! Trailer: (HD 2:04) A solid trailer that does a great job of setting up the movie.
The Organization Trailer: (HD 2:54) A strange trailer, but one that does a good job setting up the fact that Tibbs is in well over his head in this entry.
Talk about a movie I was hoping to be good. I tried to like 'They Call Me Mister Tibbs!,' I really did. But I didn't. The story idea is there, it's just so bland and uninteresting in the final execution that it's hard to give any credit to anyone involved. Poitier looks like he's trying really hard and his final scenes of the movie serve for some powerful stuff, but it's too little too late for such a bland outing. While I may not have loved it, I know this one has its fans, and with that I am happy to report they should be very pleased with the quality of this disc. The audio and video presentation are top notch for a catalogue title of this vintage. If you're like me and new to this sequel, I strongly suggest you give this one a rent before buying. Make sure you're a fan first.