Rod Steiger received his third and final Oscar nomination for play Police Chief Bill Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night.
Rod Steiger I find is incredibly effective in this role that could have been too stereotypical or overblown but that is not the way Rod Steiger plays it. First of all Steiger does his southern dialect very well. He sounds completely natural the whole time and he never sounds phony for a moment, which many do when doing a southern accent.
Steiger I find gives a great performance throughout the film, and fully realizes his character. He gives Gillespie more depth than one might expect from the character. Steiger shows Gillespie as a tough chief of police who seems to be racist in his own way and hard on everybody. Steiger though I find subtly shows that the the Chief really is not exactly this way. Instead Steiger shows that the chief put on a bit of a front and is not exactly the person he pretends to be. Not that the chief is not tough, he is but he is not really as pig headed or racist as he may come off as.
Stieger shows that Gillespie has to act this way to live in that portion of the South. The scenes where Steiger shows this are brilliant because Gillespie never says it but instead Steiger shows it so perfectly without saying anything. Such as the scene where the mayor says he can't be chief anymore because he let Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) slap the wealthy and racist Andicott. Steiger so perfectly shows that he really knows he is not that way, without only his face and reaction to what the town's mayor says. The biggest scene where he shows the true natural Gillespie is where he speaks with Tibbs at his home. Steiger finally shows the more withdrawn and senstive man perfectly.
Steiger is great throughout and he has the right presence the whole time, but his performance also works so well because of the way he works with Sidney Poitier. They both work together perfectly to create brilliant scenes together. Neither wishes to control the scene but each have their way of moving the scene along perfectly. Sometime one is quiet and the other is loud and vice versa. Both create the conflict between Tibbs and Gillespie work effectively. They both also slowly and perfectly show their greater respect for each other and eventually their mutual respect in that last scene, where Steiger's smile is just perfect.