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HTF Review: The Sidney Poitier DVD Collection

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

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Posted January 16 2004 - 05:52 PM

The Sidney Poitier DVD Collection

Studio: MGM
Year: 1963 - 1971
Rated: Not Rated – R (See Below)
Film Length: Various (See Below)
Aspect Ratio: Various (See Below)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: Various (See Below)

Friends: I apologize in advance for the length of this mammoth review, but out of respect for you all, I felt it was my charge to properly evaluate the entire set, in case any of you are considering a purchase. In any event, I hope that you find this information is helpful and wish you all happy movie watching!!!

In The Heat Of The Night
Running Time: 110 MinutesAspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)
Rated: Not RatedLanguage: English, French, and Spanish – Mono
Year: 1967Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

1967 sure was a banner year for renowned actor Sidney Poitier. In addition to starring in the classic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, he was also fortunate enough to play a leading role in the highly regarded, Oscar®-winning In the Heat of the Night. Helmed by Norman Jewison (Moonstruck), In the Heat of the Nightis a truly wonderful film, one which successfully blends elements of thoughtful drama, powerful character studies, and even comedy into a cohesive whole. Indeed, this film is good enough that the Academy deemed it worthy of being awarded five Oscars® in 1967, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Actor (Rod Steiger) statues.

The events of In the Heat of the Night transpire in Sparta, Mississippi, a sleepy Southern burg where most residents depend upon the production of cotton for their income. At the time Sparta’s future seems promising, as a wealthy industrialist is funding the construction of a new factory. Unfortunately, this man is discovered beaten to death in an alley by deputy Sam Wood (Warren Oates) very early in the film. In response to this murder, Police Chief Gillespie (Steiger) wants every suspicious character in town rounded up, so he tasks deputy Wood with tracking down leads on the killer.

In the meantime, Virgil Tibbs (Poitier), a homicide detective from another city, is waiting to catch a train home from a visit to Sparta when deputy Wood finds him alone in the station and takes him into custody, largely based upon the color of his skin. This unfortunate incident results in the first of many “apologies” to Detective Tibbs from Chief Gillespie, and it also sets in motion the resourceful, intelligent Tibbs’ humbling of the bigoted townsfolk, for Gillespie reluctantly asks for his help in solving the murder case. In large part, this request stems from the victim's wife, Leslie Colbert (Lee Grant), being impressed by Tibbs' credentials and his analysis of the crime scene. Indeed, she is so impressed that she insists upon the Mayor having Tibbs assigned to the investigation. Though this infuriates Gillespie, as he hates to be outshined (especially by an African-American), he ultimately bends to the pressure from the Mayor.

On the whole, I think In the Heat of the Night effectively represents the racial tensions predominant in the era, and appropriately contrasts the divergent attitudes of folks from different regions of the country. The performances are uniformly excellent as well, lending greater credibility to the film. Rod Steiger, for instance, turns in a sublime performance as Chief Gillespie, who gradually comes to accept Tibbs' assistance, and finally even respect him, despite his previous inclination to dislike those of a different skin tone. More so than in most films like this, the Gillespie character has depth, and come across as much more than merely a hotheaded racist. Unquestionably, that is a part of his makeup, but he is also clever and respectful, and the way he comes to admire Tibbs by the end of the film is not trumped up.

Tibbs, on the other hand, is more than just another hero of pure heart and noble virtue. As Chief Gillespie rightly points out to him, Tibbs inwardly bears some ill will towards white folks, just as the white population of Sparta is overtly discriminatory towards black people. In addition, though Tibbs is a superb detective, he is eventually shown to be fallible, as some of his own conclusions turn out to be wrong. In my mind, these humanizations of the character went a long way towards his appeal.

I hate repeating myself, but this is a truly special film, and the Best Picture Oscar® was well deserved. In fact, its popularity led Sidney Poitier to portray the character Virgil Tibbs in two sequels, They Call Me Mr Tibbs! and The Organization. Years later, it would even be the inspiration for a successful television series. In my humble opinion, this fine piece of filmmaking belongs in the DVD collection of every film fan!

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!
Running Time: 108 MinutesAspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)
Rated: RLanguage: English, French, and Spanish – Mono
Year: 1970Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Although it is by no means an awful film, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! is a good example of an inferior movie that attempts to use its predecessor’s success to gain acceptance. In this case, that predecessor is 1967’s “Best Picture”, In the Heat of the Night. Essentially, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! is a fairly straightforward crime flick that just happens to share the lead character, namely homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), as the previous film, although the story veers in an entirely different direction.

This time, Detective Tibbs’ adventure involves the slaying of a prostitute. Unfortunately for Mr. Tibbs, the subsequent investigation quickly centers on his friend Reverend Logan Sharpe (Martin Landau), a reformist preacher. The drama arises from Tibbs’ attempt to get at the truth while simultaneously struggling with his personal loyalty to his friend Reverend Sharpe. Things are not made any easier for Tibbs, as Sharpe is also in the middle of promoting a contentious ‘community power’ proposition in an upcoming election.

As I stated, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs is not an abysmal movie. It simply lacks a few of the elements that made its forbearer, In the Heat of the Night, so great. The previous film was quite a bit more intense in every area, especially in terms of the underlying racial tensions that were palpable in the movie. In Mr. Tibbs, the tension is dependent upon the filmmakers’ development of community unrest, but that element is not executed well enough to create any feeling of “real” tension. Further, although tame by today’s standards, the action sequences in In the Heat of the Night were far more realistic and riveting than the rudimentary fistfights we are offered here.

I think a big part of the problem is that director Gordon Douglas, though blessed with the considerable acting chops of Sidney Poitier in the lead role, was undermined by a lackluster story. The result is a competent but mundane drama that revolves around the resolution of a murder mystery that just isn’t constructed tightly enough. There are also a lot of potentially fascinating complications to Mr. Tibbs’ exploits that are not sufficiently treated with. For example, although released only three years after In the Heat of the Night, racial issues are almost non-existent in the film and the sub-theme of urban unrest is never really fleshed out, despite being shown several times.

As a result, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! feels like a wasted opportunity to create a substantial film, as opposed to a pedestrian murder-mystery. About the only thing I found more than a little interesting was the interaction between Tibbs and his family, which gave the character even more depth than he had in In the Heat of the Night. To be sure, this was not a terrible effort, but Mr. Tibbs’ badge was starting to get a little tarnished by this point.

The Organization
Running Time: 108 MinutesAspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Letterboxed)
Rated: PG-13Language: English – Mono
Year: 1971Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Made well before Hollywood’s modern day fascination with multiple sequels, this third film involving Detective Virgil Tibbs is a rather taut and engaging crime drama that exposes its characters to the brutal, dangerous world of drug trafficking. It is certainly not on par with In the Heat of the Night as a film, but I though that it ended the “Mr. Tibbs” trilogy nicely, and was a better picture than its immediate predecessor, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!

In The Organization, we find that Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is accepting assistance from a “neighborhood watch” type anti-drug group. Unfortunately, it seems that although the group has good intentions, it has broken the law on numerous occasions, including stealing a large shipment of drugs. Even worse, though the group pulled this off without causing any loss of life, a dead body is later discovered at the scene. Needless to say, this complicates matters greatly, and lands Lieutenant Tibbs in trouble with the law for withholding information.

In an attempt to set things right, Tibbs, who is suspended from the force for his indiscretion, uses the group’s help to compile the information he needs to derail the plans of a large drug operation. As is par for the course, Sidney Poitier is excellent in his third go-round as Tibbs. The Organization, however, also benefits from the presence of Raul Julia, who was no slouch as an actor either. Finally, the elements of intrigue and action are also handled more adeptly in Sidney Poitier’s final go-round as Mr. Tibbs!

Lilies Of The Field

Running Time: 95 MinutesAspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Letterboxed)
Rated: GLanguage: English – Mono
Year: 1963Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Lilies of the Field is another excellent addition to the Sidney Poitier DVDCollection, and is especially notable in that Mr. Poitier took home the Best Actor Oscar® for his remarkable performance. In this film, Poitier plays Homer Smith, an ex-military man who lives out of his car and does odd jobs as he travels, for whomsoever wishes to retain his services. Eventually, Homer’s journey takes him through Arizona, where he stops for a little water, meets a group of German nuns, and agrees to repair a damaged roof for them. As the job progresses, he is not paid for his work, and much to his dismay, he realizes another nun is expecting him to construct an entire chapel.

The five nuns in question have traveled long, hard road from their homeland of East Germany to follow the Lord’s will. When we meet them, their somewhat abrasive leader, Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), is under the assumption that Homer was sent by the Lord to build their chapel for them. Surprisingly, Homer stays for supper even after he learns the nuns have no money to pay for the services he has rendered so far, and upon learning that Maria is the only one who can speak English, he teaches the rest of the ladies a little of the language. As time goes on, Homer, being the nice guy he is, finds the nuns’ plight hard to turn away from, despite Mother Maria’s apparent ingratitude. As a result, every time he tries to move on, the nuns are able to con him into doing another little job. The question is: Will Homer help the nuns erect their chapel, or will he eventually put his foot down and leave the nuns to fend for themselves?

Adapted for the screen from a story by William E. Barrett, the film is leisurely paced but never becomes the least bit tiresome. In addition to the amazing performances, Jerry Goldsmith’s score also gives great warmth to this feel-good drama, which is suitable viewing for the whole family, without being melodramatic or overly sentimental. Like In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field is a moving, inspirational film (although for different reasons). In my opinion, it is also another film that deserves consideration for a place in any well-rounded DVD collection.

For Love Of Ivy
Running Time: 101 MinutesAspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Letterboxed)
Rated: GLanguage: English – Mono
Year: 1968Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

In this quirky story of unlikely romance, a high-rolling hustler, Jack Parks (Sidney Poitier) is pressured into dating a client’s naïve young housekeeper, and when they meet love is the furthest thing from his mind. But as Jack gets to know this young lady, he realizes he has never met anyone quite as alluring as Ivy Moore (Abbey Lincoln), and he begins to develop real feelings for her – just as she discovers the truth about how their relationship began!

Featuring a remarkable (as usual) performance by Poitier, this touching love story also boasts a great supporting cast, including Beau Bridges and Carroll O’Connor, who play the weird members of Ivy’s “family”. The real surprise, though, is the powerful, charismatic performance of Abbey Lincoln, who absolutely shines as Ivy Moore! As an aside, Quincy Jones’ score, although a bit dated, is quite good, and the title song was also nominated for an Oscar®!


In The Heat Of The Night
In the Heat of the Night is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), and given that it is arguably the centerpiece of the set, it should look the best (as it does). Colors are rendered in an accurate fashion, with facial tones being especially natural in appearance. Blacks are also consistent in their depth throughout, and the image has plenty of shadow detail as a result. Speaking of detail, fine detail is also quite good, often extending well into the background of scenes.

As might be expected, there is a bit of edge enhancement applied, and some noise visible against solid colored backgrounds. Neither of these deficiencies is too distracting, however, and they are certainly not inconsistent with a film of this age. For a motion picture from 1967, this is a very pleasing, film-like transfer.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs
Although MGM also offers They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the results are not on par with the generally excellent images found on the In the Heat of the Night disc. Specifically, although the print contains little in the way of obvious damage or specks, the image is both dark and a little on the soft side. As a result, fine detail and shadow delineation suffer a little bit. In addition, edge enhancement halos are noticeable on occasion and there is quite a bit of video noise visible against solid colored backgrounds.

Clearly, the images found on this release have a laundry list of little problems. Fortunately, although they present minor distractions here and there, none of them completely undermine one’s ability to watch the film. On the plus side, color reproduction is commendable, flesh tones are pleasantly accurate, and the anamorphic nature of the image also lends itself to greater resolution, but that is about it. Overall, I would have to say that this is an average visual presentation for a decidedly average film.

The Organization
The Organization is presented in letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), and though the results are not unwatchable, I was left with a lot to be desired. Specifically, the image is lacking fine detail, particularly in distance shots, which appear almost out-of-focus. Black level is also average, at best, which makes it difficult to discern what is happening during the scenes shot outdoors at night. Similarly, building interiors appear quite dim, and overall shadow delineation is not very good either.

Further, color reproduction, although rather accurate, is slightly muted, and the application of edge enhancement is apparent as well. I suppose in the early days of DVD, this level of visual quality might have been received with more tolerance, so even while The Organization likely appears a lot better on disc than it probably would on television, I cannot say this DVD does not disappoint, in terms of its visual quality.

Lilies Of The Field
This marvelous picture is presented by MGM in letterboxed 1.66:1 widescreen, and the black and white photography is presented beautifully. The film hardly looks its age, since the print is clean and largely free from major blemishes and distracting debris. Further, in addition to well-balanced contrast, blacks are deep and well defined. Better still, whites are bright and clean, but never reach the point at which blooming occurs.

My only real complaints are the over-indulgence in edge enhancement to artificially sharpen the picture, creating rather noticeable haloing on fine lines, and a slightly obscured amount of background detail. Those are small potatoes, I suppose, since this is a very good-looking transfer overall.

For Love Of Ivy
For a non-anamorphic transfer, MGM’s widescreen presentation (1.85:1) of For Love Of Ivy was quite a pleasant surprise! First of all, the vibrant colors of the late ‘60s are accurately rendered, with plenty of cool blues, bright oranges, and deep reds on display, and flesh tones are extremely realistic. In addition, although there is some edge enhancement apparent, haloing is not too excessive, and the image’s cleanliness and detail (for a non-anamorphic transfer) were impressive in most scenes. Of course, an anamorphic transfer would have been nice, but aside from some shimmering on Jack’s sport coat in Chapter 3, and the overly soft appearance of a couple scenes shot from a distance, this is a solid, professional transfer.


In The Heat Of The Night
Unfortunately, the monaural audio track for this film (my personal favorite from this collection) is below average, even when making an allowance for it being an older monaural recording. The soundtrack is bright and fatiguing, with a surprising amount of background noise. On the plus side, dialogue is never difficult to make out, but it just doesn’t sound all that good over the very noticeable, and almost constant, hiss. Again, I have taken into consideration the limitations inherent in the source material, but I expect that those with revealing sound systems will be as disappointed as I was, especially if you watch the film at even a remotely loud volume.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!
MGM presents the sounds of Detective Virgil Tibbs’ second adventure in via a monaural Dolby Digital mix, and although I can’t say I was terribly impressed with this disc’s audio track, I can’t say that any major distractions were present either. Once again, the soundstage lacks space and depth, but frequency response is adequate, and dialogue is reproduced quite faithfully (despite lacking dynamics). Overall, it does what needs to be done to recreate the encoded audio, nothing more.

The Organization
The audio quality of The Organization’sDolby Digital monaural track, while certainly not astounding by current standards, presents the source material well enough. This film is largely dependent upon dialogue to advance the story, and the encoded audio reproduces dialogue clearly, without too much distortion or hiss. That being said, the soundfield is quite “narrow”, and frequency response is on the anemic side, as monaural tracks are prone to being. I suppose a word that would suit this track best is functional. Clearly, this effort is not among the best monaural tracks I have heard, but it suits the material just fine.

Lilies of the Field
As with the other films in this collection, Lilies of the Field is presented in monaural Dolby Digital. As you probably already know, or have guessed, this film is dialogue driven, so the audio track is chiefly relegated to the presentation of dialogue. Sadly, the age of the source elements, and recording techniques used probably means that only so much that can be done to clean them up. As a result, whenever characters speak loudly, dialogue becomes noticeably distorted. The same problem is evident during the louder passages in Jerry Goldsmith’s score. In addition, a slight hiss is audible throughout the film.

For Love Of Ivy
The monaural audio track for For Love of Ivycertainly won’t stand anyone’s hair on end, but it actually places the source material in a pretty good light. As is the case with all of the films in this collection, For Love of Ivyis a dialogue-heavy film, so it is important that dialogue be presented clearly, and without distractions. I am happy to report that the encoded audio does a fine job in that regard, with the characters speech coming through cleanly, without sibilance, distortion, or hissing.

Further, the sound field is not quite constricted as the monaural mixes on the other four films are, and frequency response is on a little above average, at least as far as monaural tracks are concerned. Although I was not overly impressed, I do have to say that, on the whole, this mix does a pretty good job of recreating the source material.


In The Heat Of The Night
A fairly screen-specific commentary with director Norman Jewison, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant is included. Although this track is a little too technical for my taste, there is a wealth of filmmaking information provided, as well as plenty of background on the process of creating this classic film. I must caution viewers not to listen without watching the movie first, however, due to major spoilers early on in the track.

MGM has also included a “collectible booklet”, which contains production notes, chapter stops, and the cast list. A full-frame (4:3) theatrical trailer, which is dark and damaged, is included as well.

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!
The theatrical trailer for the film is included.

The Organization
The theatrical trailer for the film is included.

Lilies Of The Field
The theatrical trailer for the film is included.

For Love Of Ivy
There are no extras offered on this disc.


(on a five-point scale)
In the Heat of the Night

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!

The Organization

Lilies Of The Field

For Love Of Ivy

This five-disc Sidney Poitier Collection is a fine way of paying homage to one of the greatest film actors ever to step in front of a camera. In addition to featuring some of Poitier’s most memorable performances, it includes three films (In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field, and For Love of Ivy) that are arguably bona-fide classics. That fact alone makes this set worth recommending, but when you add to it the generally pleasantly surprising video quality, a recommendation becomes even easier.

Even though the monaural audio tracks are only about average in quality, and four of these films almost completely lack bonus features, this set is still a good value, for reasons that should be apparent from my lengthy musings. Even if you do not purchase this set, I urge you to consider picking up copies of In the Heat of the Night and Lilies of the Field, if you run across them. In my opinion, those are films that no diverse DVD collection should be without.

Although not in quite the same league, For Love of Ivy and The Organization are also very solid efforts in their own right, especially for Love Of Ivy. Having seen this set advertised Online for about $54.00 shipped, which translates into roughly $13.50 per disc, I conclude that the price is certainly reasonable for films this good. If you look at it that way, the inclusion of the somewhat dull They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! is just gravy! Recommended!!!

Stay tuned…

Release Date:
January 20th, 2004
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#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 16 2004 - 10:51 PM

Great review Jason, I bought all of these titles except "For Love of Ivy" when they originally were released as separate titles back in 2001. Yesterday, I just received the following Poitier titles that I will be checking out in the next week or so.
  • For Love of Ivy
  • Pressure Point with Bobby Darin and Peter Falk
  • The Wilby Conspiracy with Michael Caine
Also, last week, I received the following dvd released Poitier films with Bill Cosby.
  • Uptown Saturday Night
  • Let's Do It Again
  • A Piece of the Action


#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Tina_H_V


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Posted January 28 2004 - 07:00 AM

Thanks a bunch for the review, Jason. Since I already have In The Heat of the Night on DVD (as well as a lobby placard I was fortunate to find one day in Berkeley in 1997 which adornes my home theater! Posted Image ), I shall pick up the other four titles separately. And For Love of Lvy is indeed, to me, an underappreciated gem. I am glad you found it as pleasing as I did.

And Robert, I am so very glad that you are goung to give Ivy a look-see also. Posted Image

Other Sidney recommends from me are: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; A Raisin in the Sun; and To Sir With Love. (Lulu's themesong a great classic, IMHO! I even have both the soundtrack AND the LP which Lulu released with other original recordings of her own! Posted Image )
The Acid Queen Still Rocks and Souls!!!! ;D

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