In the Heat of the Night Blu-ray Review
A police officer (Warren Oates) patrols the streets in his cruiser, occupying his night by listening to country music and spying on a naked woman in her kitchen. And then he sees it: a citizen in a pool of blood with his skull caved in and with no money in his pocket. That same night, a black man is sits at the local train station and happens to have a lot of cash on him. He’s taken into the station and pinpointed by Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger, who had previously earned Oscar nods for ON THE WATERFRONT and THE PAWNBROKER) as the killer.
But the man is Philadelphia police officer Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier, four years after becoming the first African American male to win the Best Actor Oscar, for his turn in LILIES OF THE FIELD), who may be given stares and threats in the Deep South, but he’s not afraid to return a firm slap. Following his own superior’s order, Tibbs winds up on the case. Good thing; despite the prejudice that he faces by his colleagues, he’s apparently the only man capable of doing a proper job. And whether Gillespie likes it or not, they do indeed call him Mr. Tibbs. (The famous line inspired the title of the first of two unnecessary sequels; the other was 1971’s THE ORGANIZATION.)
Director Norman Jewison’s career contains a number of films that focus on controversial and social issues (…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, A SOLDIER’S STORY, THE HURRICANE), but IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT may be the one whose ideas resonate the most. It is a story of racism and injustice that is also something of a look at the process and profession.
While it’s fascinating to see the main characters team up to get their man, the overall plot is not terribly strong, and since the hunt for the killer isn’t nearly as tense as the relationship between Tibbs and Gillespie, only a portion of the movie sticks in the viewer’s mind after the credits. (Notice how most discussions regarding the film center around the themes and not the chase.)
Also what haven’t been forgotten in the nearly 50 years since IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was released are the performances. Poitier is strong in more ways than one (and gets top billing), but Steiger is absolutely stellar in a turn that is so much more than what might be expected. So many of Gillespie’s lines (“I don’t think you could let an opportunity like [this] pass by,” for example) come off more layered than Stirling Silliphant’s screenplay (based on John Ball’s 1965 novel) really is. (The script is filled with one-dimensional characters and over-the-top scenarios that greatly hurt the film.) Steiger’s delivery in that line and most others is so smart and calculated that I suspect Steiger is a major reason Silliphant won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In addition to that and Steiger’s wins, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won another three Oscars, including Best Picture. Interestingly, one of its competitors as GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, also a racially fueled picture starring Poitier. But unlike the Stanley Kramer film, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is not dated. While the subject matter may not be as stinging as it was in 1967 when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, the film’s subject matter will forever be relevant.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is given a strong high-definition transfer. This is a very clear video presentation that brings a certain amount of vibrancy to the film’s look.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0; French DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Subtitles in English, Spanish and French. Both Quincy Jones’ score and the dialogue come through with no detectable flaws.
Commentary with Norman Jewison, Lee Grant, Rod Steiger, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler: Four separate interviews with director Jewison, Grant, Steiger, and Wexler are compiled to create this commentary, which conveniently lets each individual discuss the topics close to them. This allows for Jewison and Wexler to expand on more technical aspects and Grant and Steiger to touch on their performances and approaches.
Turning Up the Heat: Moviemaking in the ‘60s (21:10): A number of interviewees, including Jewison, Wexler, producer Walter Mirisch, and filmmaker John Singleton, sit down to discuss the relevancy and legacy of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
The Slap Heard Around the World (7:25): The famous confrontation between Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) and Eric Endicott (Larry Gates) is touched on.
Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (13:02): Jones, in addition to admirers of both his and Ray Charles, talk about the music used in the film.