In a small town in Mississippi a body is found on the street, cooling as it’s lifeblood seeps out yet still sweltering in the literal heat of the night. Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is picked up at the local train station and hauled before police chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) as suspect number one. Assumed guilty because he is an outsider and black, Tibbs quickly establishes that not only is he smarter and more classy than Gillespie but also a higher paid police detective who specializes in homicide. Embarrassed, Gillespie engages Tibbs to solve the murder. Tibbs reluctantly does so, exposing the town’s darkest secrets. In a town where racism is a daily and accepted occurrence Tibbs must be on his toes to outsmart fatcat political foes, dopey deputies and heat-mad townies alike.
The Production: 4/5
Winner of 5 Oscars, including best actor for Steiger (who beat out Poitier!), Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay ITHOTN is as relevant and timely today as it was in 1967. HTF’s smart ban on politics and religion make discussing these themes difficult, but ITHOTN serves as a time capsule of where things were and where we are now. Which is saying something, something awful, as we relitigate and re-experience the same issues that we though the civil rights movement had made progress on. Even the side story of abortion is relevant once again as we face going back to an age where women who find themselves unhappily pregnant will be forced to make terrible choices and the men they are involved with are often driven to violence against them.
While the themes are undeniably fraught, the doors opened by the film are still illustrative. Forefront in that is to not make assumptions. Tibbs is the key evidence against that but Gillespie, while certainly prejudiced, isn’t the racist pig he is assumed to be either, at least not completely. And while their actions alone cannot change the society they are part, perhaps their story can help make progress.
Tibb’s calm presence under pressure (and Poitier’s personification of it) are one role model, but don’t forget that “the slap” had an even more profound effect. Sometimes it takes a precision deployment of light violence to wake a person up that they aren’t as in control as they think they are, and sometimes that response winds up affecting a far greater sphere in society than they could have imagined.
3D Rating: NA
The 4k transfer goes a bit above and beyond the 1080p version present in the recent Criterion Bluray, and seems to have kept most/all the cleanup work that was done for that release. The UHD format is not much use for detail delivery as mostly it delves deeper into the film’s grain, which is a constant presence. Many scenes have tough jobs maintaining sharp focus in night shots, but you can’t pull detail that’s not there. Colors are great tho and outdoor daytime scenes pop nicely. No HDR pass that I can tell, tho perhaps wide color gamut is employed. Overall it looked great for its age on an OLED display but no miracles here.
Note that the mono soundtrack is the default. If you want 5.1 you need to select it in the menus. The move to 5.1 allows Quincy Jones’s eclectic use of jazz to shine a bit more here, tho I still felt like a lot of it was center focused. I do love and respect the soundtrack, and it made me think a lot of “Midnight Run”. No serious deep end, which is to be expected and no real action from the rears. Dialogue is crisp.
Special Features: 4/5
Mostly a “Best of” taken from the Criterion extras, adding the two sequels along for the ride.
Disc 1 (4KUHD):
- NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson with Robert Mirisch (Nephew of Walter Mirisch, and Son of the Mirisch Company Founder Harold Mirisch)
- Audio Commentary by Director Norman Jewison, Cinematographer Haskell Wexler and Actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant
Disc 2 (BLU-RAY):
- THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS! (1970) – The sequel to In the Heat of the Night. Back in San Francisco, a high-priced call girl is murdered and Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is on the case. Co-Starring Martin Landau and Barbara McNair and directed by Gordon Douglas.
- THE ORGANIZATION (1971) – In this Tibbs/Poitier finale, Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) helps a group of idealistic vigilantes expose a drug ring controlled by powerful businessmen. Co-Starring Barbara McNair and Gerald S. O’Loughlin and directed by Don Medford.
- Turning Up the Heat: Movie Making in the 60’s – 2008 Featurette (21:10)
- The Slap Heard Around the World – 2008 Featurette (7:25)
- Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound – 2008 Featurette (13:02)
- Theatrical Trailers for IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS! and THE ORGANIZATION
In the heat of the night is a movie I wish more people could see today. It serves as a bookend sitting before the civil rights movement and legitimately may have helped spur it on.
But it’s the relationship between Poitier and Steiger that steals the show here, like all good fish out of water / buddy movies. The characters both surprise us in unexpected ways, and they grow from re-evaluating what they thought they knew. What more could you hope for?
The sequels are absolute junk tho. I couldn’t sit through them, they seemed like bad Columbo episodes. Great title on the second one… I remember watching the Carol O’Connor TV series based on the movie tho and that would be way better than either of these films, sadly.
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