In the Heat of the Night
Release Year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Writers: Stirling Silliphant (screenplay), John Ball (novel In the Heat of the Night)
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Quentin Dean, Larry Gates, James Patterson, William Schallert, Beah Richards, Scott Wilson
Rating: Won 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound. Nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Director, Best Sound Effects. Won 3 Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Drama (Rod Steiger), Best Screenplay. Nominated for 4 Golden Globes: Best Director, Best Actor – Drama (Sidney Poitier), Best Supporting Actress (Lee Grant), Best Supporting Actress (Quentin Dean).
Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), an African American police officer from Philadelphia finds himself assisting in a homicide investigation in a racially hostile town in Mississippi.
The racial tension and injustice of the deep South has been the subject of many great films, but none as timely and yet timeless as Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night. Released in 1967 and based on a novel by John Ball released two years previous the film came right when Civil Rights were trying to get a hold. Set in Mississippi, the film is a sweaty and heated as the title suggests, and tension is brewing underneath the surface in every scene. Gillespie, the sherif of a small town (Rod Steiger) has his hands full when an out-of-towner with with business connections in the area turns up dead. Luckily for him, the leading homicide detective of the Philadelphia P.D., Virgil Tibbs, has just been brought into the station on account of being black, “wearing hite man’s clothes”, and having a nice stack of money in his wallet. After his identity is known and it becomes obvious that the local police are in way over their heads the two reluctantly work together despite their differences. Poitier (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) plays Tibbs with a burning intensity and integrity and might have walked away with the show had it not been for an outstanding performance by his co-lead Steiger (On the Waterfront, 1954). Both men bring a depth and a humanity to their characters but Steiger’s Southern sherif is perhaps the harder of the two to “pull off”. Apart from the two leads, the film offers a wealth of very fine supporting roles, especially Oates (Stripes 1981) and a young Wilson (Monster, 2003) in his début role. Set during a the course of a couple of days, the murder mystery is good enough,but it is hardly the focus. Will Tibbs making it out of the town in piece, and how will the sherif manage the balancing act of working with this black man without losing the trust of the townspeople who elected him. In the HEat of the Night is an intense and great crime drama as significant now as it was when it was released. A timeless classic!
Despite its Mississippi setting the film was shot in Illinois. Poitier insisted the film be shot in the north because he and friend Harry Bellafonte had once come close to being killed by the Ku Klux Klan when travelling through Mississippi. The production did venture shortly to Tennessee to shot some outdoor scenes. During this short period Poitier slept with a gun under his pillow and they even had to move production back to Illinois ahead of schedule due to death threats against Poitier from local racists.
The film was the first colour Hollywood movie lit with consideration for an actor with dark skin. The lighting normally used tended to produce a lot of glare from dark complexions, but here the director toned down the lighting to better feature Poitier.
Sidney Poitier was o impressed with Scott Wilson (playing Harvey Oberst – his first role) that he contacted director Richard Brooks and suggested Wilson for a leading role in In Cold Blood (1967). Wilson only found out about it after he ws cast.
Picture Copyright: Nordisk Film