In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).
Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.
The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course, Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances. It’s an excellent portrayal of racism in the early 60’s.