In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Description[from Freebase]

In the Heat of the Night is a 1967 mystery film based on the John Ball novel of the same name published in 1965, which tells the story of a black police detective from Philadelphia who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town in Mississippi. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It stars Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Warren Oates, and was directed by Norman Jewison. The film was followed by two sequels, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! in 1970, and The Organization in 1971. It also became the basis of a television series entitled In the Heat of the Night, starring Carroll O'Connor, Howard Rollins, Alan Autry, David Hart, Anne-Marie Johnson, and Hugh O'Connor. Although the film was set in the fictional Mississippi town of Sparta (with supposedly no connection to the real Sparta, Mississippi, an unincorporated community), part of the movie was filmed in Sparta, Illinois, where many of the film's landmarks can still be seen. The quote "They call me Mister Tibbs!" was listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes. Mr.

Review

Forty years on, In the Heat of the Night is still a movie with an importance that resonates. There aren’t many movies that are turned into TV series twenty years after they premiere, after all: Carroll O’Connor (who else) stepped in to Rod Steiger’s shoes for eight seasons as the moderately racist police chief Bill Gillespie, who gets an unexpected mess on his hands when a dead body shows up on his otherwise small town streets and, perhaps more troubling in his eyes, a black man (Sidney Poitier) arrives unannounced as well.

Of course it turns out that Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs is also a police detective, and in one of cinema’s least logical plot twists, he is asked by his supervisors back home to pitch in with the murder investigation. All sides are reluctant, at least until the crime is ultimately solved and everyone comes to understand a bit about the other side of the fence. (How that got Tibbs to stick around in redneck central for two sequels and eight years as a TV show is never really explained.)

In the Heat of the Night is far — far — more interested in racial politics than criminal capers, and it’s Tibbs’ interactions with the local yokels that make the film so memorable. Poitier’s bellowing of the classic line, ‘They call me Mister Tibbs!’ resounds so fully that it actually became the title of the first sequel to the film. Steiger won the Best Actor Oscar (which is hard to justify vs. Poitier’s work, which is considerably better), and the film won Best Picture (equally hard to justify over nominees Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). But that’s politics for ya.

A 40th anniversary DVD adds commentary by Jewison, Steiger, lenser Haskell Wexler, and Lee Grant.

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