In the Heat of the Night

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jan 21, 2014
In the Heat of the Night

You know the story: When a lieutenant with the Philadelphia police department returns to a small Mississippi town called Sparta to visit his mother, he's cornered, hauled in, and questioned in the murder of an important man. Did I forget to mention that the only reason for his collaring is that he's black, and the victim is white? And that far from being a killer, the initial suspect -- his name is Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) -- happens to be a top-flight homicide detective?

Norman Jewison's landmark 1967 film "In the Heat of the Night" may have delivered one of cinema's immortal lines ("They call me Mister Tibbs!") and given us an indelible partnership, Poitier being paired with Rod Steiger's white local police chief (a man called Gillespie, whose mind is barely more open than those of his racist colleagues); and it may have taken home Oscar gold for Best Picture; and, yes, it may have spawned two sequels and possessed a resonance so strong that two decades later the film served as inspiration for a long-running TV series starring Carrol O'Connor.

But here's what the film really did: Subject racism to the same critical eye as the murder mystery that serves as the formal occasion for bringing Tibbs and Gillespie together. As Tibbs demonstrates his mastery with investigational technique, the narrative becomes a procedural that assesses and strips back layers of racism and prejudice.

This Blu-ray release looks wonderful, and while its special features are the same as the 40th Anniversary edition from 2007, the fact that the film can now be enjoyed in sparkling hi-definition makes its purchase worth the while.

Special features include three featurettes: "Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making in the 1960s," "The Slap Heard Around the World," and "Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound," the last of these concerning the music for the film. There's also an audio commentary featuring Steiger, Lee Grant, Jewison, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. (The commentary has also appeared on previous home release editions of the film.)

"In the Heat of the Night"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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