Monday, 28 September 2015

The Organization (1971)

It's actually a real shame that the first sequel that put In The Heat of the Night's fish out of water detective Virgil Tibbs back into the water was the insipid They Call Me Mr Tibbs! as this concluding chapter in the loose trilogy of films, The Organization, is a much stronger piece that actually feels more in keeping with the Tibbs character of the original film.

Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs is back in San Francisco for this second sequel but crucially he's back in fine maverick form, determined to bring down an international narcotics ring supplying drugs into the Bay Area through a dummy company called Century Furniture, and he's not particularly bothered about bending a few laws and keeping his colleagues in the police department in the dark either. In a briskly efficient audacious heist in the opening scene, we see a gang of activists (including a Charles Manson look-a-like preacher, a Japanese member of a girl's track team, a pole vaulter and a young Raul Julia) break into Century Furniture, with its kidnapped CEO and make off with an enormous $4 million shipment of heroin from the companies vaults. It's an impressive opening to the movie which has no dialogue (indeed, no sound at all beyond footsteps and grunts) until a little over seven minutes in when Raul Julia utters the film's first line and Gill Melle's score (an improvement on Quincy Jones' offering for They Call Me Mister Tibbs!) kicks in.

Immediately after the heist and the opening credits fade, the plot kicks in and things start to get complex. Our activist gang make their getaway determined to break the heroin supply chain in the city, but when Tibbs and the team show up they find the CEO they left behind full of bullets. Someone else - representatives of the shadowy eponymous 'Organization' - arrived after their robbery and executed the guy as punishment. Terrified that they have a murder rap hanging over their heads, the gang contact Tibbs and let them in on their secret, telling them their part in the robbery.  From there Tibbs agrees to investigate 'The Organization', whilst keeping the activists names out of it - but, 'The Organization' are out for revenge and it isn't long before they start picking off the gang one by one.

The only real issue with The Organization is that it is unnecessarily complicated. Even now after watching I'm still not totally sure where all the jigsaw pieces fitted, but overall it's an efficient runaround featuring an unflappable Poitier as Tibbs and, thankfully, much less of his domestic life away from the job. The real joy here is seeing his loyalty being divided between cops and the gang who turn to become his informers and if you can follow all the red herrings being thrown into the mix then I'm sure there's much to enjoy in this rattling cop drama. It's no French Connection (what is?) but it's streets ahead of They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and is an overlooked entry in the solid crime thrillers of 70s cinema.

Look out too for one Danny Travanty as Tibbs' driver - he would go on to become Daniel J Travanti and star as Lt Frank Furrilo in Hill Street Blues in the subsequent decade.

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