Tomorrow (February 20th, 2017) is the 90th birthday of American actor Sidney Poitier. Born in Miami, Florida on February 20th, 1927 he would go on to become one of the finest actors of his generation, and a pioneer for future generations of African American actors.
Sidney’s characters were substantial roles (sadly, pretty much a first for African American performers), often authority figures such as detectives or teachers. With his powerful and distinctive voice, and dramatic intensity he is an actor who has your attention every second he is on the screen.
From a small (but key role) in Blackboard Jungle, to lead roles in The Defiant Ones, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and To Sir With Love; Poitier quickly made a name for himself and became one of the best actors of his generation . He made history by winning the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, for his role in The Lilies of the Field.
In one of my all time favourites, he stars alongside Rod Steiger (1967’s superb Detective drama In The Heat of the Night.)
Set in the racist 60’s South, Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, a big city Detective brought into a small town Police Station on suspicion of murder, simply because he is a black man waiting to catch a train. When it’s discovered he is not only innocent, but also a Detective, he slowly gains the trust of the local officers. Gum chewing Police Chief Gillespie(Rod Steiger)begins to rethink his prejudice as he spends more time with Tibbs, the two slowly develop a bond of trust, and mutual respect and even friendship begins to develop between them. They must put aside their differences to try and solve the murder, before the killer escapes justice.
As they spend more time together Tibbs and Gillespie find themselves coming to respect and like each other. Their growing bond hopefully put some hope on the horizon that their relationship could soon be happening on a wide scale in real life.
I can’t even begin to imagine how groundbreaking Poitier’s character and performance were back in 67. The scene where he stands up to the racist plantation owner is incredibly powerful, and shows us that he will no longer stand for that hatred/treatment, times are changing. A gripping story, featuring both Poitier and Steiger at their best.
My favourite scenes are the following. The “no pity, thank you” scene at Gillespie’s house. Tibbs and Gillespie’s first meeting the chief’s office. Tibbs, Gillespie and Wood in the café when they’re retracing officer Wood’s movements on the night of the murder. The slap scene. The scene between Tibbs and Mrs. Colbert when she is disgusted by the others behaviour towards him.
Happy birthday, Sidney. Thank you for so many wonderful film performances. I hope you have a lovely day, and that you are in good health. Maddy