THE ORGANIZATION starts out well, with a nifty, extended burglary sequence that, among its tactics, makes clever use of pole vaulting. The novel setup unfortunately degrades into a dull jog with some bad acting in the supporting roles, poorly paced action scenes (between lots of lame jabbering) and a dim resolution. Even star Sidney Poitier is off his game, unexcited by the material, the third and last of his ‘Virgil Tibbs’ trio. Reviews dissed the derivative dreariness; a gross of $8,200,000 placed 43rd in 1971, locked & loaded with better crime stories. *
San Francisco. A clue-skewed break-in & homicide is pursued by detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier). He’s led first to a group of revolutionary activists—carefully color-coded to harness assorted demographics while playing up the era’s “fight the man” ethos—who confide to Tibbs on the robbery, but insist the killing came from ‘The Organization’, an uber-connected drug-pushing syndicate. They have crooked cop cooperation, a community-wracking gig the “pig!”-spouting rebels want to bring down. Dig it!
No, don’t bother, because while screenwriter James R. Webb had aced western epics and war movies, he came a cropper tackling then-trendy urban upsets, slinging urban slang not meaty enough compensate for the unlikely and overcomplicated plotline. Not helping is the plod of Don Medford, predominantly a TV director; despite vets on camera (Joseph F. Biroc) and editing (Ferris Webster) it looks like an extended television show, with only some scenes of the the then-constructing rapid-transit system, BART, offering much Bay Area flavor. Someone made the mistake of turning the music over to Gil Melle, whose gawdawful jazz-as-noise score adds nothing but dissonant cacophony. Where Medford really dropped the ball was in not helping craft performances, especially in the numerous secondary roles. Actors who’d later do well are frankly lame: they include Raul Julia, Ron O’Neal, Allen Garfield and Billy Green Bush. Faring better are Sheree North (always a hot number) and Gerald S. O’Laughlin (how many times a cop?), while, as in the previous installment, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, Virgil’s wife is played by lovely Barbara McNair. But the shoehorned family interplay rings hollow, too, McNair’s part is thankless. The grit and guts from Poitier’s testier Virgil of In The Heat Of The Night is absent.
With Bernie Hamilton, Lani Miyazaki (good-looking and—sorry—just terrible), Daniel J. Travanti, Max Gail, Demond Wilson. 106 minutes. **
* They stopped calling him Mr. Tibbs when #3 ran up against 71’s rousers The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Klute, Shaft, The Anderson Tapes, Play Misty For Me and Get Carter. E-gads, there was also Billy Jack, A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs.
Poitier, 44, took over directing as well as acting on five of his next six features.
** That opener robbery may have been the work of Jack Reddish, credited as Assistant Director; he’d done 2nd-unit chores on winners like The Great Escape and Bonnie And Clyde.