Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Organization" Is Just Routine

Cleveland Press October 21, 1971

In "The Organization" Sydney Poitier seems to be marking time between important movies. He seemed to be doing the same thing during "My Name is Mister Tibbs."

Once again Poitier is playing detective Virgil Tibbs, the role he created in "In the Heat of the Night." And once again the sequel in no way resembles the original.

"Heat" was a taut drama about a black detective from the North involved in investigating a crime in a southern community, an investigation that forced him to work with a red-neck sheriff (Rod Steiger).

The Virgil Tibbs sequels have been fairly routine, even bland, crime dramas. They are well made but nothing out of the ordinary.

Tibbs has been provided with a wife (Barbara McNair) and a home life that does nothing to give the character dimension.

The setting is San Francisco and the story is about international trade in drugs. The picture has a taut and interesting beginning in which a handful of people invade a well guarded business establishment and make off with a fortune in heroin.

Then murder enters the picture and it turns out there is another force at work. There are the nebulous tentacles of a vast crime organization to deal with and it seems that the original group is a vigilante-type operation doing battle with the big boys. Naturally, Tibbs is in the middle.

The trouble with impersonal villains is that they make for impersonal movies. "The Organization" has its share of chases and gun battles but who is chasing whom is never completely clear.

The Tibbs movies (aside from the original) date back to a period in which blacks played characters that were interchangeable with white characters. Such movies were good and notable and went far toward opening film roles for blacks.

But there was a certain sterility about them as they made use of race without ever saying anything about race.

The cops-and-robbers pictures using black heroes have gone beyond that. With "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (a very good example) and "Shaft" (a so-so movie) the black detective has been involved in the black milieu or at least one that is conscious of race. The result is not only more realistic but more interesting.

Which only makes "The Organization" that much less interesting.