Three years after creating the character of Detective Virgil Tibbs in Best Picture winner “In the Heat of the Night”, Sidney Poitier came back as the sleuth in 1970’s THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS!
Set in San Francisco, Tibbs is back on his big city turf, investigating the murder of a prostitute whose customer list contains a diverse group of important men.
Anthony Zerbe (License to Kill) is early 70’s slimy as her white collar executive pimp who lives in the same upscale apartment building as the victim. He says that the last man he saw leave the apartment was liberal, activist preacher Logan Sharp, who happens to be a good friend of Tibbs.
Martin Landau (Mission Impossible, Ed Wood) brings plenty of fire & brimstone to his role as the reverend, who may have got a little TOO close to some of his parishioners.
Virgil is forced to look at the cold facts of the case that seem to directly implicate his friend.
As long as the film focuses on the case, its effective and fairly interesting, but a third of the time, we are in Tibbs home with his wife and two children in a strained subplot that feels more like an Afterschool Special than a crime film.
Barbara McNair is fine as Virgil’s wife Valerie, but she’s reduced to complaining about him always getting home late. That would seem to be a logical part of the territory as the lead homicide detective in a major city, right? His young daughter spends most of her screen time practicing standing on her head and things really get awkward as we watch Tibbs discipline his very young son by smoking cigarettes with him and slapping the young boy repeatedly across the face.
Those scenes are as uncomfortable as the fast resolve to them is false.
When we do get back to the action, we get a pre Mr. Grant Ed Asner as another client of the murdered prostitute. He runs away from being interrogated and leads Tibbs and the police on a long car chase through the city that adds fun but seems to only serve as some much needed action shoehorned into a boring section.
As a follow up to “Heat of the Night” it’s a very minor film and pales in comparison. As a standard crime drama, it plays like a 70’s TV crime drama, extremely elevated by the presence and acting of Poitier, who’s just plain gold.
I actually enjoyed the second Tibbs sequel, 1971’s “The Organization” much more than this one.
As for this entry, it’s middle of the road and predictable. I think the screenwriters were standing on their heads as much as Tibbs’ daughter, because this dizzy, bland mix of well-worn plots never quite comes together.
I’ll give it a C.