• Brian W. Fairbanks23 September 2005
    Once timely, now timeless
    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
  • CJGlowacki7 September 2004
    "They call me Mister Tibbs!"
    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
  • dr_foreman29 March 2004
    flawless movie, deserved Best Picture
    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.
  • Lechuguilla3 January 2008
    Through The Mississippi Darkness
    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.
  • robb_7724 May 2006
    The essence of modern-day film noir
    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.
  • bkoganbing11 May 2007
    The Growing Pains of the New South
    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 felt.

    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.
  • Robert J. Maxwell25 April 2002
    The Sun Has Set -- And You're Still Here?
    Warning: 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.
  • ReelCheese3 December 2006
    Well-Crafted Murder Mystery With A Twist
    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.
  • waynec5022 February 2006
    A True Landmark Film
    1967 was a turbulent year in the U S. Civil rights marches and demonstrations, anti-war rallies, the summer of love,psychedelic music and backlash against the previously noted, 1967 had it all. And this great movie came out, about a small Mississippi town embroiled in a steaming hot summer and a sizzling murder case. The movie diverges from the book on many aspects, mostly for the better. This is a serious look at a nation and a community in turmoil. The acting is first rate, from Sidney Poitier (one of the greatest American actors of this generation, regardless of race), Rod Steiger, Lee Grant, Warren Oates and the whole passel of townsfolk. The plot has been well outlined in previous posts, so I won't belabor it. My favorite scene is when Virgil examines the deceased, looking for clues in discoloration, type of wound, etc., while the sheriff looks on with his jaw practically on the floor in amazement. You can plainly see that he wanted to pin the crime on a hitch-hiker or one of the town's less desirable inhabitants. While some may see the film as preachy or presenting Virgil as a superior to the hicks, seen in the context of its time, it really tells a lot about race relations of the time. The movie is well filmed with lots of atmospheric detail of the time and region (even though it was filmed in Illinois, some areas of Illinois and Indiana were very Southern in their feel and outlook). Great acting, a good mystery, fine cinematography and an important theme make this a must-see movie. 10 stars.
  • A_Different_Drummer12 January 2014
    NO NO - not an 8, a perfect "10"
    Warning: Spoilers
    Let's be very clear on one point. Let's be crystal. Many of the top-rated IMDb films on racism in the US are fairly recent, and, as such are essentially delivering to the viewer a nostalgic or "re-imagined" vicarious peek at the cultural phenomena. But this astounding one-of-a-kind film was made in the 1960s. In the 1960s racism, discrimination, and violence were neither theoretical nor nostalgic. They were on the TV new every night. Against that backdrop, this film parachutes onto the screen two of the greatest actors of their generation, Poitier (who, history will record, left the industry much too early, given his great talent) and Steiger who was so adept at his craft he could play a washing machine if you gave me a place to stand and an electric cord. Keep in mind also that many of the audience members who enjoyed this film at the time of release had never been in the rural deep south, nor did they ever want to be. So, now that I have set the stage, imagine what it must have been like to be sitting in the theatre when Poitier gets off the train on a hot steamy southern night, only be manhandled by the local deputy (for being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time) only to reveal that he is in the law business himself, and then offers to help the locals deal with a crime beyond their ability ... the subtle looks, glances and grimaces in Steiger's facial expressions as, through the movie, he comes to see Poitier less as a racial stereotype and more as an associate is simply wondrous to behold, and reflected on a broader level the process that American itself was going through, collectively. One of the greatest movies ever made, hypnotic, powerful, can be watched over and over.
  • sultana-129 May 2001
    The Perfect American Murder Mystery
    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.
  • The_Wood17 March 2002
    Perfect 10/10
    This film deserved to win the Academy Award for best picture of 1967 -- just 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 minutes!

    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.
  • SmileysWorld3 September 2011
    A great whodunit with a unique setting.
    Whodunits are a dime a dozen in my view.What makes In the Heat of the Night so unique in the murder mystery genre is it's setting:The racially tense deep south.This is what I enjoy about the film.You have two major plot lines to keep you engrossed:The investigation into the murder itself,and the racial tensions between Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs character and virtually every other character in the film.The film is loaded with great acting,particularly from Poitier,who,not surprisingly,considers this his best work and is his favorite amongst all the projects he has done.Not only is this recommended viewing,it is recommended for a spot on your home video shelf.
  • screenman13 September 2011
    Sure-Fire Classic
    Warning: Spoilers
    Outrageously handsome Sidney Poitier plays Negro cop, Virgil Tibbs, stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    There's murder afoot in the deep south. Tibbs finds himself arrested for audaciously being black and a stranger. He is hauled before the bigoted town sheriff, expertly played by Rod Steiger.

    Even those good ol' boys can't frame a black detective. But what's more; his speciality is homicide. Desperate to clear-up the crime, Steiger's man is doomed to swallow his pride and plead assistance from this 'niggra'.

    Every scene is played to perfection. Every confrontation between the two polarised psyches is beautifully presented. You find yourself longing for every next scene in which they appear together. There's a very creditable supporting cast featuring Warren Oates, but they're completely eclipsed by Poitier & Steiger.

    There's so many nicely presented details of small-town USA, as well as imaginative use of lighting, camera and editing. This movie won 5 Oscars including 'Best Picture'; even the later and more flamboyant 'Mississipi Burning' cannot trump Norman Jewison's thriller.

    I've docked a star because I don't think the sheer brutality of racism is adequately depicted, though it probably went about as far as sensibilities would allow at the time. Even so; it's a cracking bit of drama.

    Very highly recommended.
  • Michael Neumann28 November 2010
    provocative then, still dramatic now
    It's ironic that a decades-old feature should remind us how best to conduct a murder investigation in the redneck, rural South. Without losing sight of the important peripheral issues (namely bigotry and discrimination), the film concentrates on what ought to be (but usually isn't) the primary concern of any murder mystery: the mystery itself, revealed here in a compelling series of puzzling clues. It's too bad the resolution is weakened by so many plot twists, and by the anti-climactic final unmasking of the killer (in a throwaway gesture resembling a white trash variation of "the butler did it"). But any narrative gaps are well covered by the pair of dynamic star performances. The salt-and-pepper pairing of racial opposites on the same side of the law has long since become a tired cliché, but nothing about the roles is black and white: not Rod Steiger's jaundiced perceptions, nor Sidney Poitier's obsession with solving a crime which has nothing to do with him.
  • tieman6428 September 2011
    The White Man's Eunuch
    Warning: Spoilers
    "Gradualism may have some value in politics. But in art, it just represent a stale, hackneyed period, to be forgotten as soon as we can get on to the real work at hand." - Clifford Mason

    It's hard to watch Sidney Poitier's "classic" movies these days. In the 50s and 60s he became Hollywood's token black man. The new, upstanding, righteous, handsome, dignified, strangely sex-less, African American, symbolic of progressivism, Civil Rights movements and back-patting, liberal film-makers. Poitier wasn't just an actor, he was a flag bearer, smuggling all that was good and just about "The Negro" into Hollywood. White audiences loved him. Blacks thought he was a joke. Ironically, Poitier got into acting because he was ashamed of his Afro-Caribbean roots, and worked frantically to disguise his West Indian accent. He wanted to be a proper speaking white man. Others used him because they believed that the "Negro image" is best served or rehabilitated by a black version of a white man in grey flannel suits, who takes on white problems and inherits a white man's sense of what's wrong in the world.

    Most of Poitier's films during this period followed a pattern. Director Stanley Kramer, not one to shy away from middle-brow message movies, had him tied to a white guy in "The Deviant Ones", audience and co-star Tony Curtis learning that "useful black men are our friends too". Meanwhile, "The Bedford Incident" saw Poitier turn his nose up to war mongering white boys whilst snidely calling them "sir". Later, "Duel at Diablo" proved that the black man can also be an Indian killing cowboy, whilst dressed in slick, suave, grey suits of course, and the inspirational "To Sir With Love" saw Poitier playing a sex-less London school teacher whose students learn that "hey, black people are great and make good teachers in white schools". And don't forget "A Patch of Blue", in which Poitier plays a reporter who falls in love with a blind white girl. Typical of Poitier-film reversals, he's well off, suited and suave looking, while she's a dirty white girl from the slums. Their romance is sterile - white audiences weren't ready for interracial smooching - Poitier rescuing the girl and then politely sending her off to a camp for the blind, never to see her again. Then there's "Guess Who's Coming To Diner?", in which Poitier finally gets to kiss a white girl (it's more of a peck), after which he proves he's a better white man than her family of arrogant Caucasians.

    These films are all entertaining in a sleazy, salacious sort of way, but the fact is that they trade entirely in countercliches and do not, as they proudly claim, change the stereotypes that black actors are subjected to. They are contrivances, art-less, in which Poitier is reduced to a showcase Negro who exists only in the white man's view of him. Always in clean suits, pure of motivation, dignified, surrounded by stupid, mean whites, the Poitier Hero, antiseptic and one-dimensional, always finds himself in a totally white world, with no wife, no sweetheart, no woman, no black friends, and tasked with using his innate goodness to solve white problems for whites. Such "Black Saviour" tales are resurfacing today. Think "Blind Side", "Precious", "The Legend of Bagger Vance", anything with Morgan Freeman and Obama mania.

    And so "In The Heat of the Night" stars Sidney Poitier as a grey suited, angelic white man in black-face who finds himself trapped in the Deep South. Surrounded by racist, stupid, redneck cops, Poitier spends the first half of the film schooling white boys and proving that blacks are superior to whites at police work, medical examinations, manners, looks and speech. He's an African American Ubermensch.

    The film was directed by Norman Jewison, though, a director who makes comedies when he's not bludgeoning us with message movies. So "Night" has a sense of humour which your typical Poitier movie doesn't, Poitier's superiority played for laughs, and red-neck inferiority treated as a joke (see "Watermellon Man"). Other good moments include passing shots of workers in fields (alluding, briefly, to the South's reliance on the slave trade) and Poitier's stand-off with a wealthy local. Indeed, though the film is oft touted as being "progressive" for highlighting "white on black" racism, the only thing it deals believably with is "black on white" racism, Poitier learning to check his aggression, stop instinctively blaming wealthy whites, and to work with lug headed whites for a better tomorrow. In contrast, "white on black" racism is treated ridiculously. The film pretends to be progressive but amounts to odious titillation, playing like a lynch mob lynching whites while blacks are schooled on the dangers of stereotyping rich folk with less melanin. It's the kind of film where audiences snicker because a black man slaps the face of a rich, pampered, arrogant, locally powerful white man...but not before he slapped our hero, of course.

    Aesthetically the film is effective, Jewison capturing the heat, gentle winds and lazy atmosphere of the Deep South, and occasionally treating us to some moody night-time photography. The film's acting garnered awards but is mostly caricatural; a collection of tics. Rod Steiger's a mean curmudgeon, and Poitier does his Henry Fonda/Jimmy Stewart in black-face routine. Quincey Jones, Hollywood's go-to black-composer, did the score.

    7.9/10 – Peep-show sensationalism, diluted by some moments of humour. Worth one viewing.
  • mstomaso14 May 2008
    Race, Crime, and Ignorance in the Late '60s
    In the Heat of the Night is as powerful a topical film as Do the Right Thing, The Intruder, and Boyz n tha Hood, but more entertaining. Set in the volatile southern USA during the racially charged late 1960s, the story brings a brilliant black homicide investigator (Poitier) from Philadelphia and a southern white good 'ol boy police chief (Steiger) together to investigate a mysterious murder. These two men appear to have three things in common:

    1 - They are police officers

    2 - They are investigating a murder

    3 - They are both racists

    In the hands of a less intelligent writing team (John Ball novel, Stirling Silliphant screenplay) and director (Norman Jewison), the major question might have become "can they overcome their differences and work together to solve the crime?". but this question would eschew the entire point and value of the film.

    In the Heat of the Night took home 5 well-deserved Academy Awards. Unfortunately, the great director Jewison missed best director because of the Academy' inexplicable love affair with Mike Nichol's The Graduate.

    Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier are, as you might expect, amazing. And the support cast and casting are remarkable as well. In the commented version of the film on the DVD, Jewison explains that he does not believe that any role is small. The meaning of this statement comes across very nicely in his films, especially In the Heat of the Night. Every character in the film is well developed and consistently played.

    Setting plays a major role in the Heat of the Night as well, and the film's perfect cinematography and soundtrack help contextualize the very nicely selected locations. Camera-work is essential to this film.

    See this film, then see it again with Jewison, Steiger and Lee Grant's comments turned on. The audio commentary is a retrospective and remarkably - almost startlingly - candid.

    Highly recommended.
  • LoriJMatt26 October 2010
    In the Heat of the Night is a groundbreaking film that brings forward the issue of racism.
    Warning: Spoilers
    Set in the late 1960's, in a small southern town, In the Heat of the Night suggests a look at racism during a very turbulent time in American history.

    Sydney Poitier is brilliant as Virgil Tibbs, a no nonsense, Philadelphia police officer who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Virgil Tibbs is waiting at a train depot, in a town in the Deep South, the murder of Mr. Colbert, a wealthy businessman, takes place. Bumbling officer, Sam Wood, (portrayed by Warren Oats), out on the lookout for a potential suspect, spots Tibbs at the train depot. In a scene reminiscent from Boys in the Hood, Tibbs is harassed and immediately placed under arrest, solely based upon the color of his skin.

    Tibbs is subsequently cleared of any wrong doing by the town's constable Gillespie, played by the very talented Rod Steiger. However, as the film progresses it is clear that even though Tibbs is no longer a suspect, he is not welcome in the town.

    Eventually Tibbs is brought on to help the Sparta police department solve the murder but as Gillespie and Tibbs try to work together they are met with the bigotry of the townsfolk. A key scene involved Tibbs informing Mrs Colbert (Lee Remick) of her husband's untimely death. In an effort to console her Tibbs reaches out to touch her arm and Mrs. Colbert immediately pulls away, this occurred again moments later as Tibbs made another effort at contact. Throughout the film Tibbs is treated in a discriminatory manor by almost every white person he encounters. Even the low-life counter boy at the diner refuses to serve Tibbs a meal.

    With the use of different camera angles, such as a subjective point of view when officer Woods is driving his squad car, the audience is made to feel a part of the action. Low key lighting is brought into play during the interrogation scene between Tibbs and Gillespie and then again when Tibbs is sitting in the local jail. This lighting suggests a darkness or moodiness to the film that would not be there had it been filmed in full light.

    In the end, the racist views of the people don't change just because Mr. Tibbs has proved himself to be an intelligent, sophisticated man of another race. They go back to their lives and Tibbs goes back to his and really the only thing that is resolved is the murder.
  • catherine_stebbins22 July 2010
    Poitier and Steiger make this a must-see
    The central mystery in Norman Jewison's exploration of racial tension is irrelevant to the importance of this film. While most of its other elements I could take or leave, the central relationship between Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) and Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is still riveting and manages to not be heavy-handed but subtle in its development and progress. Seeing Tibbs push down his anger whilst everyone in the town treats him with anger and violence is wonderfully portrayed by Poitier. On the other hand, seeing Steiger grapple with his morals with Poitier's arrival is a treat as well. Each has their own complexities to deal with and when they are together, it adds an additional dynamic to the proceedings. Not only does the film hold important historic relevance but the racial issues still hold meaning today. The two lead performances are electric and are the main reason for seeing the film although all of it is well done.

  • daniel charchuk17 April 2008
    Solid enough
    It's solid enough for a Best Picture winner. The characterizations are deep and fleshed-out, and this is only enhanced by the two great lead performances (I would've given the Oscar to both of them), but I found myself wanting a bit more meat on the actual story. The whodunit mystery lacks real interest, and I wanted something more engaging and intriguing for these characters to do. I also found myself perplexed by the solution at the end - far too confusing a mystery to be an effective one. This may seem like a contradiction, but what I really wanted was a meaningful, layered story, not a twisted, confounding one.

    It's got a great sense of style about it, helped by that great score and Jewison's often flashy direction. But, in the grand ol' year of 1967, it's got nothing on Bonnie and Clyde or even The Graduate. So, a solid enough BP winner, if not a deserving one.
  • JonathanWalford21 January 2014
    An important film is not necessarily a good film
    Warning: Spoilers
    I understand how important the subject matter of this film was when it was made, but if you put aside the 'if only we could all get along' message, what you left with is a highly flawed film.

    The film has long drawn-out scenes like when the first suspect is being chased through the woods, while other important scenes are quickly cut to and from so fast that you can't understand how the plot advanced with so little said. The threat over whether Poitier's character is going to stay to solve the murder flip flops so many times I lost track. First Steiger wants him to go, then he wants him to stay, then go, then stay, then go. Steiger is supposed to be a racist, not necessarily stupid, so you have to wonder why he is willing to hang the first suspect he finds when he doesn't even know all the facts, especially when it's not even established if the suspect has an alibi or where or how he discovered the wallet. These are big plot holes and only one of several throughout the film.

    Aside from holes in the writing and directing, there are egregious goofs like the deciduous forest in late autumn during what we are lead to believe is supposed to be a sultry summer heat wave. Alongside goofs there are unclear story lines, like why the boy in the café hates the cop.

    The makers of this film were so intent on breaking a barrier they forgot to make a good film. I don't believe Steiger character's change of heart n the final scene, when he exhibited no softening of his own racist views throughout the story. In the Heat of the Night may have been an important film when it was made, but that doesn't make it a good film.
  • Jim Griffin21 April 2002
    A solid, intelligent film. (Possible spoilers)
    Warning: Spoilers
    Hollywood isn't as liberal as it likes to think. Too often its message movies are behind the times they condemn, trailing behind the trailblazers who have the nerve to speak out when it matters. In The Heat of the Night is something of an exception. Beyond that, it's simply a great film.

    Principally a detective story, the murder of a wealthy businessman in small-town Mississippi is, for the most part, only a framework around which the real story can be told. This is a battle-of-wills between Detective Tibbs and Chief Gillespie, a struggle for power between black and white, a contest for acting honours between Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. While there is no doubt as to which character is the victor, and which race is the most shamed, the actors are absolute equals. Both give superb, layered performances. Steiger's Gillespie is racist, proud, but lets us feel a degree of pity; Poitier's Tibbs is intelligent, thoughtful, but shows a degree of arrogance. These are not simply characters, but people.

    Some have complained that its message is far from subtle, that the lines are too clearly defined, that the racism is too overt. Such criticism comes from those with little understanding of history and little appreciation for context. This was 1967, this was the south; this was how it was. Remember, this film came only four years after Martin Luther King told us his dream, only three years after amendments to The Civil Rights Bill were passed, only two years after the murder of Malcolm X, and only one year before the murder of Dr King. Its message certainly was not subtle, it had no need to be. Its delivery, however, is subtle enough that even today's audience can appreciate it.

    Beyond the superb performances, and the dignified message they contain, there are details that give the film a greater depth. When Poitier is being frisked by Officer Wood, he's told to spread his fingers apart, so that he can `see all ten'. Poitier doesn't move them; they're apart enough already. That non-reaction is a great moment, showing that he's been here before, that he knows the drill, that'll he'll tolerate it because for now he has to, but that he won't take orders without reason.

    There is so much to praise here. The slow pace of the film should kill its tension, but instead it reflects the sticky heat and the leisurely pace of life in the town. Never is it too slow. The scene where Steiger would rather condemn one of his own officers than lose another point to Poitier's big-city detective skills is a high point, as is the gentle yet vicious racism from Endicott. The conversation between the leads in Steiger's house is surprisingly touching; its brief moment of bonding never seems patronising or contrived, and is expertly ruined by the crudeness of Steiger's racism. The characters' growth is slight, uneven, and without any real payoff. And that's by no means a criticism.

    In the Heat of the Night is a film that simply has to be seen, one that soars despite all that could have brought it down. It should be preachy but it isn't; it should have dated but it hasn't; its slow pace should be leaden but it's perfect. This is a rare kind of a film, and one that after a run of terrible movies has helped to remind me why I love cinema in the first place. I'm grateful for that.
  • sandnair8720 April 2015
    Poitier and Steiger Turn Up the Heat in this Knockout Cop Thriller!
    In the sleepy, bigoted town of Sparta, Mississippi, where they roll up the sidewalks at night, a police officer on a routine, boring nighttime patrol through the downtown stumbles across a dead body, that of a rich, white Chicago industrialist who was building a controversial factory in the town. The primary suspect, at least to this cop's black-and-white eye, is a lone black man, well dressed and carrying a wad of cash, whom the cop discovers waiting at the deserted train station. The 'suspect' turns out to be Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a Philadelphia cop who just happens to be an expert on homicide. Local Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is the gum-chewing arrogant white Southerner with as much bluff as brains. He walks with a cocky swagger, spits venom at black men, snorts sarcastic remarks at his subordinates and is too quick to pick up suspects and forcibly wring confessions from them. Disgusted with Gillespie's arrogance, he can't get out of town soon enough but gets interested in the solution of the murder when Gillespie jails a second suspect, a frightened young man whom Tibbs proves to be innocent. At the urging of the victim's widow, Gillespie grudgingly asks for Tibbs' help in solving the murder. Reluctantly Tibbs obliges and under such unusual circumstances, the two find themselves working together at cross purposes, each following the wrong clues but, in the long run, each contributing to the apprehension of the killer.

    'In the Heat of the Night' turns out to be an absorbing contemporary drama, expertly straddling the line by relating an old-fashioned murder-mystery in a jazzy style. A great deal of the credit goes to the director, Normal Jewison, for creating the right atmosphere and for running the story off with no waste motion. His direction is crisp and invigorating, and the minimal use of stylistic flourishes that often date other films of the late 1960s gives the film an ageless look.

    What makes the film compelling today for reasons beyond its unconventional style, is the guarded relationship between Tibbs and Gillespie, which begins in almost comical hostility and ends in mutual admiration. Poitier and Steiger have such strong chemistry together that their relationship comes alive and grabs you on a gut level. It grabs you most of all because each actor is excellent in portraying that slow evolution of his character's world-view. As Tibbs, Poitier swallows his anger until he nearly chokes on it, letting his eyes say words he's barely able to keep from speaking. As Gillespie, Steiger similarly has to hide his feelings, particularly the professional respect that's making him question a lifetime of ingrained racist ideas, overcoming his prejudices in spite of himself. It's a pleasure, all too rare, to watch two splendid actors pitted against each other with such dynamism!

    In the Heat of the Night is a detective yarn of the highest order, crowned with two knockout central performances that makes this a sensational murder mystery!
  • funkyfry5 March 2015
    Very solid combination of mystery and drama
    Warning: Spoilers
    Not only does this film keep us guessing as to the identity of the murderer, as any good mystery should do, but it keeps us in dramatic suspense as we see 2 parallel stories unfolding -- the murder investigation and the friendship between Sidney Poitier's big-city black cop and Rod Steiger's country white cop. The story begins, appropriately enough, with Poitier as a suspect in the murder -- the deputy (played with the usual low-key precision by Warren Oates) brings him in because he's a large black man who's a stranger in town. When Steiger discovers he's a fellow-cop, it's one of the funniest and also more poignant moments in the film.

    Poitier becomes infatuated with the idea of tying the murder in to the racist cotton plantation owner (Larry Gates), and risks his life at the hands of the angry rednecks who just don't want him around at all. there's more tension and drama surrounding the question of whether Poitier will escape town without being lynched than there is regarding the solution to the murder itself.

    That's what makes this film so compelling. It's still effective, unlike most of the other "race consciousness" films that Poitier made around that time. Steiger's character is carefully handled so that we're not sure how racist he was, or is... the point of the film isn't that Stieger is becoming less of a racist because he met an intelligent black man. It's that they become friends, or at least have respect for each other, regardless of race. He might still be just as much of a racist in general at the end. Racism isn't going to be cleaned up overnight because Poitier shows up.

    Special note should also be given to Quincy Jones' excellent soundtrack music highlighted by the title song sung by Ray Charles. It lends the film the right aural atmosphere to go along with Haskell Wexler's saturated "hot night" photography.
  • tripper027 August 2001
    not executed very well....
    Warning: Spoilers
    This film really starts off well. It is tense, you can feel the heat, and there is some real suspense. The beginning, however, is a good as this film gets. It is downhill from there.

    Jewison does a good enough job directing this film. The problem with it, however, lies in the script by Silliphant. It is a script that tries to be socially conscious, and build that around a mystery or investigation. This doesn't work out very well however, for numerous reasons.

    First of all, Poitier as Mr.Tibbs, and Steiger as Gillespie are both good, but Steiger is excellent in his role. The problems of this film cannot be blamed on either of its leads. They were both excellent and carried themselves well. The only thing that keeps this otherwise bland mystery going is the interaction between the two. The problem though, and this is a scripting and story problem, is that the relationship between the two is extremely repetitious throughout the movie. Steiger constantly tries to best Poitier, and then likes him, and then tries to best him and so on. There is really nothing new to it, no real layers. The first scenes with the two are excellent, and then its the same thing for the rest of the film.

    Another thing that bothered me even more is the fact that the film is never subtle in its attempts to show the downfalls and ignorance of racism. There is racism against Mr.Tibbs throughout the whole film, and it gets worse. They are never subtle, he is a black man in a white mans town. There are cotton picking negros in the film, and he is always looked down upon with lines like "why are you wearing white mans clothes" and so on. The focus of the film becomes the racism, but its not done in an intelligent manner, and detracts greatly from the suspense and story.

    ****POSSIBLE SPOILER**** I was ill impressed with the resolution of the main murder as it is. I hate, and I must repeat this, I always hate when a minor character, that we have barely been introduced to, ends up being a major player when the movie resolves itself. Of course we can never solve the mystery because we don't have the information required to do so. It never impresses me when a nobody is the guilty party. I mean, some guy that is only in two scenes in the film, who works in a little diner, that we know nothing about, becomes the killer. Of course I would be surprised by the resolution because it comes out of nowhere. Thats not impressive to me at all. A movie like 'Arlington Road', where we know all along who does it, but they still plant seeds of doubt and have a stellar ending, now thats impressive. This murder mystery however was not.

    So overall its really not that great. There are more effective movies about race relations, and ones that are done in a much more clever and intelligent manner. The film is never subtle and could have been excellent, but ends up falling short and becomes just a mediocre film at best. Not highly recommended. 6 out of 10.
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