Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1967. The Mirisch Corporation. Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by John Ball. Cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Produced by Walter Mirisch. Music by Quincy Jones. Production Design by Paul Groesse. Costume Design by Alan Levine. Film Editing by Hal Ashby. Academy Awards 1967. Golden Globe Awards 1967. New York Film Critics Awards 1967.
One of the best mysteries ever filmed, this excellent drama takes on the issues of class, race and politics that boil up during the investigation of a murder case. Sidney Poitier gives one of his finest performances as a Philadelphia police detective who is sitting in a Mississippi station waiting for his connecting train home when a local sheriff (Rod Steiger) walks in and arrests him immediately on suspicion of murder. As far as Steiger is concerned, there could be no other reason that a black man, even an educated, accomplished one—oops, and a cop—would be in his town unless it was to cause trouble. As soon as the gross misunderstanding is cleared up, Poitier is asked by his boss to stay in the town and help Steiger solve the case, since the sheriff has so little experience with murder; you can imagine how much fun this is going to be for him. The screen literally crackles with tension for two hours as these two very mismatched professionals go after a murderer from completely different angles, and Poitier’s job is especially made more difficult by the fact that the town’s locals are a hell of a lot more dangerous than the culprit is. Really good work, Norman Jewison’s finest film (other than Moonstruck) and my favourite performance of Poitier’s; Steiger won an Oscar for his role but it’s a hammy collection of cop cliches compared to his co-star, whose cool reserve and intense gaze give the film most of its heat (night or day).