In the Heat of the Night (1967)

in the heat of the night poster 1967 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Interesting look at race relations


Movie Info

Movie Name:  In the Heat of the Night

Studio:  The Mirisch Corporation

Genre(s):  Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  August 2, 1967

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

in the heat of the night virigil tibbs gillespie train station sidney poitier rod steiger

So…want to solve a murder?

A prominent business man is murdered in Sparta, Mississippi as he works to construct a business that will employ thousands in the surrounding community.  Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) sets out to find the killer and brings in an African-American man named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) found at the train station.  When Gillespie learns Tibbs is a Philadelphia homicide detective, he finds himself forced to work with him to find out who murdered Colbert in order to save the factory.  Tibbs finds himself fighting his own prejudices as he seeks out the killer while battling the prejudice of the people around him.

in the heat of the night sidney poitier lee grant

Bad news, lady. Your husband is dead and everyone in this town is racist

Directed by Norman Jewison, In the Heat of the Night adapts the 1965 novel by John Ball.  The film was critically acclaimed and dealt with the hot button topics of race, segregation, and equality.  It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor (Steiger), Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Adapted Screenplay with nominations for Best Director and Best Sound Editing.  The line “They call me Mister Tibbs!” is considered one of the most memorable lines of all time.  The film was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002, and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #959).

In the Heat of the Night is one of those movies that you probably go into with a ton of preconceived notions due to the long running TV series based off the movie which ran from 1988 to 1995 and often can be found in reruns.  While the TV series did sometime do edgy stories, it was a TV show and wasn’t that revolutionary.  The film version of the book does feel like something different.

in the heat of the night slap scene endicott virgil gillespie sidney poitier rod steiger larry gates

That’s right, I’m not afraid to slap an old white guy in the South (side note…what did that server tell everyone else when he got back inside?)

The movie has a lot more bite.  In 1967, there was more racial tension with recent integration and a moment for equality.  Here, Tibbs finds himself enveloped in a world where if he steps out of line, many still feel he should be socially punished…and they aren’t afraid to say it to his face.  Through the course of the movie, much of the animosity between Tibbs and Gillespie breaks down but there is still a moment where Gillespie gets mad that Tibbs dare pity him (which reflects back to a moment in To Kill a Mockingbird where the character is sent to jail because he pitied a white woman).  The most pressing moment is where Poitier is slapped by a white man who predominately hires black men to work his field…Poitier doesn’t even hesitate to slap him back…this is quite shocking for the time and none of the characters even know what to do.

What is nice about the performances of each character is that they are out of their element.  Poitier has something to prove in the investigation and thinks that a badge will protect him (it won’t) and Gillespie believes he can do it on his own (he can’t).  They are also backed by a nice cast who really pull off the small-minded nature but with enough diversity in their response to Tibbs that it isn’t a 100% stereotype…many learn to respect him.  There is also a nice small turn by Lee Grant as the wife of the murdered man and the one who demands Tibbs stay on the case.

in the heat of the night virgil vs mob sidney poitier rod steiger

I’m guessing you’re not inviting Virgil to dinner

The movie has a gritty feel to it that films from this period often had.  I love late ’60s and early ’70s pictures and how there is a real rawness to their style.  In the Heat of the Night isn’t the flashiest picture, but it is stylish and contemporary…it is odd to think that it was preceded by A Man for All Seasons and followed by Oliver! because both films feel much stodgier and older.

In the Heat of the Night should be given a chance if you’re only familiar with the TV series.  Steiger and Poitier work great together and it is maybe one of the most antagonistic “buddy” pictures ever…tie in a kind of interesting mystery and you get a rather strong picture that endures.  The movie was followed by two sequels that took a more blaxploitation approach called They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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