|Page 1 of 18:||          |
|Index||172 reviews in total|
One of the great films of the 60s, "In the Heat of the Night" hasn't
aged a bit in the four decades since its release and now deserves to be
ranked with the great films of all time. Beautifully atmospheric,
Haskell Wexler's brilliant cinematography and Norman Jewison's first
rate direction make you feel the humidity of the small Mississippi town
in which a black detective teams with the redneck sheriff to solve the
murder of an important industrialist.
As sheriff Bill Gillespie, Rod Steiger is superb in his Oscar winning role, and this film provides Sidney Poitier with some of his greatest screen moments, including his famous admonition to Steiger that became the title of the less impressive 1970 spin off: "They call me MISTER Tibbs!"
This is one of the few politically correct films to make its point without resorting to heavy-handed, sanctimonious preaching. Stirling Silliphant's Oscar winning screenplay never hits a false note, and the change that occurs in the relationship between the leading characters is subtle, and, therefore, believable. The two stars are ably supported by an outstanding cast of both veterans (Lee Grant, Warren Oates, Beah Richards) and newcomers (Scott Wilson, Quentin Dean, and the delightfully creepy Anthony James). The score by Quincy Jones, featuring Ray Charles' rendition of the title song, captures the proper mood throughout.
In a year when the odds-makers were predicting an Oscar victory for "Bonnie and Clyde" or "The Graduate," "In the Heat of the Night" surprised the prognosticators by taking the Best Picture prize and four other Oscars. Considering its theme of racial tolerance, it seemed an appropriate choice at an Oscar ceremony that was postponed following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The film's theme made it timely, but its artistry makes it timeless.
The Academy made the right choice.
Brian W. Fairbanks
There are many bad "issues" movies out there, but this is not one of them.
In a bad movie, all of the racist characters would be one dimensional and
one hundred percent evil; here, Steiger is allowed to play a prejudiced man
who is actually sympathetic and capable of growth (hence the Oscar). In a
great twist, Virgil Tibbs himself is shown to be capable of prejudice, as he
pursues Endicott without sufficient evidence. It's refreshing to see a
movie that portrays the entire spectrum of racism, from the crazy extremists
(and there are plenty of those on hand here) to the more subtly prejudiced.
"Mississippi Burning," a weaker effort, is not only more tediously didactic, but also less progressive; that film doesn't feature a protagonist like Virgil Tibbs, and instead focuses on the actions of two white federal agents. In this case, the old movie really is the better movie; produced at the height of the civil rights struggle, "In the Heat of the Night" feels more immediate and passionate than preachy films on the subject that were made years later, after the tension had died down.
Some reviewers complain that the mystery segments of the film are confusing, but I follow them without much trouble. Tibbs does a great Sherlock Holmes routine throughout, as he pieces together the solution based on clues that are also available to viewers. Sure, the ending is surprising, but it doesn't come entirely out of left field; I actually admire the subtle ways that clues are sewn throughout the film. If you're not used to mysteries, the barrage of red herrings and dead-end clues might surprise you, but it's pretty standard stuff for the genre.
I knew about the classic line "They call me Mr. Tibbs!" long before I actually saw this movie. I used to wonder why the line was so famous; it doesn't sound that exciting, does it? But when I finally heard Poitier say it in context, I asked my brother to pause the tape so I could cheer without missing any of the subsequent dialog. That's how excited I get during this movie. The performances are so naturalistic, and the racial conflict so vividly drawn, that I get pulled into the action completely. Though 1967 was a strong year for films, I still think that the right one got Best Picture, and not just because it was topical; "In the Heat of the Night" is a well-directed, superb character study, populated by some of the most vivid characters I've ever encountered in a movie.
Whether he likes it or not, Sidney Poitier will always be remembered
first and foremost as the first black actor to continuously star
alongside and above his white counterparts. Just look at the opening
credits to "In the Heat of the Night" and you will see that not only
does he get an above the title starring credit with method maniac Rod
Steiger, but his name also appears first. Something that could have
easily been switched around and overlooked considering the importance
of each character. But for this socially aware thriller born of the
turbulent sixties, it had to be, most definitely, a conscious choice.
For Poitier, this film, along with "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?", marks the last of his civil rights driven roles in which his character's race is an all important plot element. From "Edge of the City" to "The Defiant Ones", Poitier excelled in bringing intelligent and commanding three dimensional characters to life. A feat he had to succeed at if his films were to gain the trust of a predominantly white audience and push for racial equality. Call him the Jackie Robinson of Hollywood.
When we first see Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, he is stepping off the train in the small Mississippi town of Sparta. Although we can only see him from the waist down, we do get a quick glimpse of his hand and from that we are aware of his race. An important fact for the audience to dwell on later when Rod Steiger as sheriff Gillespie, standing over a dead body on Main Street, and calls for his deputy to round up any strangers for questioning. From that moment on, director Norman Jewison establishes the racial tension that will only grow more and more intense as the film goes on.
Sometimes, the film is far from subtle in exploring the issue of racism. Endicott's plantation, complete with tall white pillars and a black jockey lawn ornament to guard them, is a perfect example. What starts off as a surprisingly civil conversation between Tibbs and Endicott quickly turns heated and unpredictable. From that moment on, the experience will serve to cloud Tibbs' judgment and bring his own flaws to the surface, making him almost as complex a character as Gillespie.
And it is the complexity of Gillespie that got Steiger the Best Actor Oscar over Poitier in 1968. This man has heart, but not made of gold, and his motivations are far from pure. He is simply a man who believes in doing his job, and doing it as just as possible - even if it means arresting a friend for murder. Take for an example the scene in which Tibbs is surrounded by a gang of blood thirsty locals. When Gillespie arrives to save the day, he simply gives them a warning and tells them to go home. It is only when they insult him personally that he becomes angry and takes a swing. His action is just - his motivation almost vain.
In the end, after the murder is solved and racial injustice is swept back under the rug, Tibbs and Gillespie say their farewells and continue on with their very different lives. Each one better off for knowing the other.
Rating [on a 5 star system] : 5 stars
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pauline Kael remarked at the time of the release of this movie that
Hollywood seemed to have divided the United States into three parts.
There was New York. There was The South. And then there was everything
else. This is a story of "The South," circa 1968, with
African-Americans as a second and much lower caste in the
cotton-picking, sweltering South.
The story is well known. Sidney Poitier is Virgil Tibbs, an expert homicide detective from Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) who is told by his Chief of Police (Rizzo, no friend of blacks, as I know from living in Philadelphia at the time) to assist the local cops in the solution of an economically important murder. Tibbs' identity as a homicide cop is only revealed, in a funny scene, after he has been arrested for the murder by the pragmatic and inept local constabulary. Thereafter, he is nudged into helping them by their wheedling encouragement and his own arrogance. Lo! He solves the murder!
Well, in truth, the solution isn't really important. Something to do with abortion and who's responsible, but it's a minor matter. And actually the final scene is unbelievable. Poitier, about to be slaughtered by a gang of murderous and thoroughly organized rednecks who have all kinds of guns pointed at him, stymies them all by simply saying, "Look in her purse." In a Faulkner short story, the movie would have ended right there.
There are three things that make this movie worth repeated viewing. One is the ethos of the film. The second is the acting. And the third is the production itself.
The ethos of the film, by which I mean the values it examines, are locked into the 1960s, and even earlier. I recall hitchhiking through the South (Maryland, actually) and still seeing signs at the time reading "Colored Only" over the rest rooms. And an African-American friend who took pictures of such arrangements being followed out of town by a short string of local cars and stopped for questioning. The film reflects a dangerous and hate-filled time which Southerners have finally overcome, thank God.
And yet this same ethos lives on in the minds of some Southern whites and even more African-Americans, not reflected in on-the-ground behavioral reality, but in beliefs. I taught for years in a Southern mostly African-American university before I came to realize how important this myth is to blacks. To ask them, or anyone else, to give up that history of persecution is to ask them to sacrifice a solidarity that is otherwise unattainable. There is "us" and then there is "them". And "they" are the enemy which draws us together and from which we gain support and succor. There is not much segregation in the South or elsewhere (although it still exists), but there might as well be.
From the point of view of any cohesive group, there almost NEEDS to be. Don't human organizations need a history of persecution? The Christians have Nero, Jews have four thousand years of it, including the holocaust, Irish have the British occupation, Moslems have the hejira, Mormons have the assassination of Smith. We -- who have once been treated unjustly -- have Victim Power. You can't understand us unless you've walked a mile in our moccasins.
The acting. Rod Steiger deserved his academy award. He's often dismissible but not here. Standing around the initial dead body, worried, he's furiously chewing gum and trying to think of somebody to pin it on. Then he suddenly stops chewing, darts his eyes around, and says, "Couldda been a hitch-hiker." A well-conveyed dramatic moment. Poitier is at least equally good. He was lambasted in some of the press for playing a super-black, a kind of white guy in blackface. The fact is that Poitier was one of the best dramatic actors who has ever appeared on screen, and this is one of his best performances. Oh -- he's put upon, true, but once he gets his transmission in the proper gear he becomes all too human. Showing off in a subtle way, wrong about the town's big time racist being responsible, and Gillespie has his number. "Boy, you're just like the rest of us, ain't you." Warren Oates adds some much-needed comedy.
The bad guy has a face that could clear a room without using a gun. The succulent young woman who is spied upon by the Oates' character should be squirted all over with whipped cream spray and eaten alive. Perhaps the funniest scene in the move is when she describes Oates taking her down to the cemetery and rolling around together on the cool marble slabs. Steiger stops chewing again, looks up in amazement, and asks, "Sam did THAT?" Not so much that he's shocked at his deputy's depravity, just surprised at his imagination!
To end this quickly, okay, it was shot in Illinois. But does it capture the small-town South of the time! Two cars racing towards an empty garage and the camera shows us the squealing tires stirring up dust -- and a pile of burning, smoking garbage, which is what it's all about.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is a well-crafted murder mystery with a twist.
Sidney Poitier is a big city detective wrongfully arrested by a racist
small police detachment after the brutal murder of the town's would-be
financial savior. Once the matter is resolved and Poitier released, he
finds himself aiding his former captors, including Police Chief Rod
Steiger, in their quest to get to the bottom of the crime.
An Academy Award winner for Best Picture, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT works on so many levels. It's a solid, unpredictable whodunit with beautiful cinematography and crisp direction from Norman Jewison. All the actors are on top of their games, particularly Steiger, whose not-entirely-likable chief gradually looks past his prejudices to warm up to Poitier. Poitier is his usual superb self, once again maintaining his vast dignity as the target of bigotry, much like he did in THE DEFIANT ONES.
And like THE DEFIANT ONES, a key theme in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is racism. In fact the racism on display here is so fierce and perverse that it's almost hard to believe (though I'm sure it didn't stretch a thing). You can't help but feel an emotional attachment to Poitier as he's subjected to taunts, attempted attacks, and off-color remarks from those who either don't realize the power of their words or don't care. Poitier proves again why he is perhaps the finest African-American actor ever to grace the screen.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is one of those movies that, while not perfect, is impossible to dislike. It's classic, though still relevant, entertainment.
This film deserved to win the Academy Award for best picture of 1967 --
as Rod Steiger deserved to win Best Actor. In the Heat of the Night has it
all though. What seems like a relatively simple case, turns into a complex
murder mystery. I defy you to solve the mystery before the final
As if the mystery wasn't enough, the film is a sociologists' text book example on prejudice and privilege. This movie hasn't aged a bit -- one of the classics.
Rod Steiger won best actor, deserved it, and was matched eyebrow for eyebrow by Sidney Poitier's Unforgettable Creation of Mr. Virgil Tibbs, police detective. The supporting cast is perfect, with Beah Richards, William Prince, and Scott Wilson as special standouts. The dialogue by Siliphant is crisply written, the direction by Jewison is non-pareil, and the mystery is difficult and resolves things perfectly. As an overall American mystery, I must vote for this even over the Maltese Falcon (which of course is also great). Forget the hit-and-miss TV spin-off and treat yourself to the real thing.
In order to understand what's happening in In the Heat of the Night you
have to realize that it is set in a very specific time period. The
Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act was
passed in 1965. But the impact of those laws was only beginning to be
Especially the Voting Rights Act. The town of Sparta, Mississippi where William Schallert was Mayor and Rod Steiger was sheriff now has a significant new voting population and blacks might be a majority in that county. But even if they aren't, they know have a voice in the electoral process. Someone like Steiger has to take that into account now. Of course some of his deputies might not yet be with the program which explains why when a murder/robbery is committed of a very prominent northern businessman, Warren Oates sees fit to roust Sidney Poitier who's an unfamiliar black face in that town.
What a surprise they all get when they find out he's a top Philadelphia, Pennsylvania homicide detective and when his identity is established, his boss in Philly offers his services.
Poitier and Steiger both have to work through their prejudices, how each sees the other to solve this mystery which writer Stirling Silliphant gives us several red herrings before we learn the truth. Though Steiger got the Oscar for Best Actor, it should really have been a joint award. Their conflict and growing respect for each other drives the film. Steiger needs his expertise and respects him for that and Poitier comes to respect Steiger for his honesty.
Norman Jewison got great performances from his stars and the supporting cast of whom Warren Oates as the dimwit redneck deputy really shines.
Though set in a very narrow period of our history, In the Heat of the Night holds up very well with some eternal truths in its story. And it's the story of times that were a changing as one spokesman of the sixties put it.
One of the best films of all time, a Best Picture Oscar winner, and a
highly deserved one at that. After reading a plot summary, it would be
easy for someone to classify Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
as a simple buddy-cop movie, but it is so much more - this is
film-making at it's finest. An absolutely merciless mystery, NIGHT
contains some incredibly intense scenes that might make some viewers
uncomfortable (the garage confrontation comes immediately to mind).
The film is expertly put together, with the feel of heady film noir. The performances are first rate: both Poitier and Rod Steiger were nominated for Best Actor, with the Oscar actually going home to Steiger (the film won four other Oscars as well). The Poitier-Steiger pairing is one of the most potent in film history, and their slowly growing friendship is one of the most touching. is a glowing example of what happens when an excellent cast, director, and screenplay combine to make an exceptional film.
Gritty realism and a strong performance by Rod Steiger rev up the
technical quality of this taut drama about a visiting Northern Black
detective named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) who gets nailed as a
suspect, foolishly, in the murder of a local VIP, in a small town in
Mississippi. Eventually, the town's White police chief, the gum chewing
Gillespie (Rod Steiger), accepts Tibbs' innocence. And the two of them
then work together, reluctantly, to solve the case.
Forty years after the film was made, the racial themes seem just a tad heavy-handed. Whites are always backward and racist. And Tibbs is smart, urbane, and sophisticated. But back in the 1960s, the filmmaker probably did need to be blunt. And the point is made that Blacks and Whites, working together, can accomplish worthy aims, even though old Black Joe is still pickin' cotton at the Endicott Cotton Company.
As a whodunit, the story is fairly good, convenient coincidences notwithstanding. The clue to the killer's identity is pleasantly subtle.
The film's cinematography and production design are terrific. Many scenes take place at night. And the opaque lighting makes for a moody, slightly dangerous look and feel. Loved how they photographed that train moving down the tracks in the Mississippi darkness, a metaphor related to the film's theme. And the sound of a train whistle adds to the mournful realism.
Interiors look authentic. The masking tape that covers rips in a big leather chair in Gillespie's shabby office is so true to life. A single white light bulb hangs down from the ceiling in a small neighborhood grocery store, where the shelves are filled with empty fruit jars. And that greasy spoon called Comptons reeks of 1960's Southern rural reality.
My only complaint with this film is the background music. Some of the jukebox songs are not consistent with the film's overall tone.
"In The Heat Of The Night" is a technically well made, and quite interesting, murder mystery. Yet, it will always be remembered, rightfully, as the film that offered hope of racial harmony, during a decade in which there was none. Its "Best Picture" Oscar award is thus explained.
|Page 1 of 18:||          |
|Plot summary||Plot synopsis||Ratings|
|Awards||External reviews||Parents Guide|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|