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In the Heat of the Night is a 1967 American mystery drama film directed by Norman Jewison. It is based on John Ball's 1965 novel of the same name and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and was produced by Walter Mirisch. The screenplay was by Stirling Silliphant.

In the Heat of the Night
In the Heat of the Night (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNorman Jewison
Produced byWalter Mirisch
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Based ona novel by John Ball
StarringSidney Poitier
Rod Steiger
Music byQuincy Jones
CinematographyHaskell Wexler, A.S.C.
Edited byHal Ashby
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 2, 1967 (1967-08-02)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office$24.3 million[3]

The film won five Academy Awards, including the 1967 awards for Best Picture and Rod Steiger for Best Actor.

The film was followed by two sequels, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! in 1970, and The Organization in 1971. In 1988, it also became the basis of a television series adaptation of the same name.

Although the film was set in the fictional Mississippi town of Sparta (with supposedly no connection to the real Sparta, Mississippi), most of the movie was filmed in Sparta, Illinois, where many of the film's landmarks can still be seen. The quote "They call me Mister Tibbs!" was listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


In 1966, a wealthy industrialist named Phillip Colbert has moved from Chicago to Sparta, Mississippi, to build a factory there. Late one night, police officer Sam Wood discovers Colbert's murdered body lying in the street.

Chief Gillespie leads the investigation. A doctor estimates that Colbert had been dead for a few hours. Wood, sent by the chief to check out various town access and exit points, finds a black man, Virgil Tibbs, at the train station and arrests him. Gillespie accuses Tibbs of the murder, and is embarrassed to learn Tibbs is a police officer from Philadelphia. Gillespie phones Tibbs's chief, who informs Gillespie that Tibbs is a top homicide detective and recommends that he should assist the investigation. The idea does not appeal to either Gillespie or Tibbs, but for reasons of their own they reluctantly agree. Tibbs examines Colbert's body and concludes the murder happened earlier than the doctor had estimated, that the killer was right-handed, and that the body had been killed elsewhere and then moved to where it was found.

Gillespie arrests another suspect, Harvey Oberst, who protests his innocence. The police are planning to beat a confession out of him, until Tibbs learns Oberst is left-handed and has an alibi backed up by witnesses, which clears him of the murder. The victim's widow is frustrated by the ineptitude of the police and impressed by Tibbs. She threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, and the town's leading citizens are forced to go along with her wish. The two policemen begin to respect each other as they are forced to work together.

Tibbs initially suspects plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the most powerful individuals in town, who publicly opposed the new factory. When Tibbs interrogates Endicott, Endicott slaps him in the face and Tibbs slaps him back. Endicott sends a gang of hooligans after Tibbs. Gillespie rescues Tibbs and tells him to leave town for his safety, but Tibbs is convinced he can solve the case and take Endicott down. Gillespie points out to Tibbs how bitter he has become.

Tibbs asks Wood to re-trace his car patrol route on the night of the murder, and Gillespie joins them. When they arrive at an all-night restaurant, Ralph, working behind the counter, refuses to serve Tibbs. Later, when Tibbs asks Wood why he changed his route, Gillespie starts suspecting Wood. Gillespie discovers that Wood made a sizable deposit into his bank account the day after the murder. Gillespie arrests Wood despite Tibbs's protests. Purdy, a nasty local, brings his 16-year-old sister, Delores, to the police station and files charges against Wood for getting her pregnant. Upon hearing that it concerns Wood, Tibbs insists on being present when Delores is questioned. Purdy at first refuses to have anything said in front of Tibbs, but he is easily rebuffed by both Tibbs and Gillespie, and the questioning goes ahead. Insulted and offended that a black man was present, Purdy gathers a mob intending to do violence against Tibbs. Meanwhile Tibbs tells Gillespie that the murder was committed at the site of the planned factory, which clears Wood of the murder charge, because he couldn't have driven both his and Colbert's car back into town (a factor prefigured when Gillespie leaves his vehicle outside Ralph's restaurant to join Tibbs in Wood's car). Tibbs adds that he knows why Wood changed his route: Delores while at home alone at night likes to display her naked body to whoever is outside, and Wood, who watches her while on duty, doesn't want Tibbs to see a white woman in the nude.

Tibbs visits a backstreet abortionist, who under pressure reveals that she is about to perform an abortion on Delores. Delores arrives, sees Tibbs, and runs away. Tibbs follows her and comes face to face with her armed boyfriend, Ralph, from the restaurant. At that moment Purdy's mob arrives on the scene and holds Tibbs at gunpoint. Tibbs shouts at Purdy to check Delores' purse, that it contains money Ralph gave her for an abortion, which he got when he robbed and killed Colbert. Purdy grabs the purse and looks inside, and realizes Tibbs is right. Purdy confronts Ralph for getting his sister pregnant, and a startled Ralph shoots Purdy dead. Tibbs grabs Ralph's gun, and just then Gillespie arrives on the scene. Ralph is arrested and confesses to Colbert's murder: he had started out just asking Colbert for a job at the new factory, but ended up attacking him from behind with a wooden post and taking his money. "I didn't mean to kill him. That's all" are the final words of Ralph's taped confession.

The final scene shows Tibbs boarding a train bound for Philadelphia, as Gillespie, having carried his suitcase, respectfully bids him farewell.