As I get older, I notice my tastes for movies change. Sure, I still like over the top action and if there is an attractive girl on the screen it gets my attention. I’m human, however as I get older I start liking films that are older. Now, I’m not talking about keeping true to films of my generation but I find myself engrossed in films that were made before I was born. There are some true classics out there such as In the Heat of the Night. This movie starred Sidney Poitier …s Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger as Police Chief Bill Gillespie. A murder has gone down in the little town of Sparta, Mississippi of a prominent businessman Colbert. He was going to bring hundreds of jobs to the town for both blacks and whites alike with building a new factory. Virgil Tibbs, a black Philadelphia homicide detective is merely passing through town when he gets arrested by Officer Sam Wood (played by Warren Oates) for the color of his skin. When he is brought into the police station; the mistake is realized by Police Chief Gillespie. After a call to Philly; Tibbs is coaxed into helping out the local police solve the murder. As one would suspect from the era and the locale, this movie is steeped in race relations. This was one of the last states that was truly racist (some would argue it still is)in the middle of the civil rights movement. However, the movie brings this across in such a way as a backdrop, not the forefront. This movie is basically a whodunit where solving the murder is more important than the prejudice that surrounds it.
In the Heat of the Night won five academy awards. This included best actor from Rod Steiger, best film editing, best picture, best sound and best writing (based on material from another medium). It is easy to see why. This film defines powerful and really takes you into the story of a white sheriff and a black homicide cop working together to find a murderer. The tension that is evident by the two lead characters is often not even advanced by words but by mere expressions. Everybody on this film whether they are there for an hour or ten minutes, brings forth an interesting and expressive character. The smallest roles, including Lee Grant as Mrs. Leslie Colbert bring a magic and another dynamic to the screen. This film really did have it all as despite its truly serious nature and dramatics, it included humor and some genuine laugh out moments. Even the music (scored by Quincy Jones and title song sung by Ray Charles) was very powerful and appropriate to the situations on the screen.
This film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. For the time and the fact that a lot of this was handheld camera work, it is a pleasure to watch. There are some artifacts and grain present throughout the picture, however you can tell that a decent amount of work was done on the print to make it look good and wholesome to today’s generation. Of interest from the commentary, there was a great amount of work that was taken into the lighting and how different skin tones and textures require certain light bulbs and techniques to get the desired effect.
Standard Mono is provided here in three languages (English, Spanish and French). It’s good but not as strong as one would hope for. This is one area where you do need to consider the source and it is probably best they did not remaster it into something it was not intended to be. It also helps to provide the correct backdrop and a sense of feeling for the era. So I can deal with and enjoy it. Subtitles are also provided for the French and Spanish. (English subs should have been provided as well since the mono is not perfect).
Audio Commentary by Norman Jewison (director), Lee Grant (star – Mrs. Leslie Colbert), Rod Steiger (star – Police Chief Bill Gillespie), and Haskell Wexler (cinematography) – Beside the theatrical trailer, this is the only extra provided. However, it is a tremendous source of material for the movie as it goes extremely deep into how the movie was made, how they shot it along with the usual assortment of anecdotes and stories by the stars and people behind it. Truly great stuff here and a great listen (screen specific all the way), only wish Sidney Poitier would have been involved.
In the Heat of the Night brings together a lot of dynamics. It starts off with a solid story put together with powerful performances. The storytelling is colorful too; full of great characters who even know how to put in a little humor without forcing a laugh at all. The race tension in the film is adequate and makes sure it doesn’t overshadow solving the murder. This movie did spawn a couple of ill fated sequels involving the character of Virgil Tibbs (one even being titled the “catch phrase” of the first film; They Call Me Mister Tibbs) and a very good tv series that spanned seven seasons and well over a hundred episodes. This is a great film and one of the few films that I can give a perfect score. The dvd is good, restoration is evident here and while it’s far from perfect it does bring the film home. The commentary is also valuable and considering the ages of those involved perhaps the last piece of information surrounding this historic and powerful film. Highly recommended for young and old moviegoers alike.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Theatrical Trailer