https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2022/02/in-the-heat-of-the-night.php

TCM held a 24-hour Sidney Poitier movie marathon over the weekend. I’ve watched each one of the films included in the marathon more than once. I saw In the Heat of the Night in the theater when it was released in 1967 and several times since. However, I have never enjoyed it as much as I did this weekend. For those who may have missed it — are there any young readers out there? — I want to bring it to your attention and offer a few notes. It is available on HBO Max as well as other streaming services.

• Sidney Poitier plays brilliant Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs. Visiting his mother in Sparta, Mississippi, he is picked up as a murder suspect as the film opens (clip below). On the surface, Poitier conveys impassive dignity. Just beneath the surface, he conveys rage at the racism that confronts him as he sticks around to work on the case. He seethes with rage.

• Rod Steiger plays the racist chief of police with great style. He was a Method actor whose method in this role is chewing gum. Incredible. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor and he is terrific.

• The film crackles with the tension between Poitier and Steiger. It is hot. It is explosive. The film is worth watching for this all by itself.

• Warren Oates and Lee Grant are wonderful in supporting roles. The entire cast is excellent.

• Steiger’s character is stupid enough to fall for every false lead in the case and barely smart enough to let Poitier figure it out. This time around I found Steiger’s falling for each suspect served up to him to provide an element of humor (as in the scene in the clip below). He is always wrong but never in doubt.

• Norman Jewison directed the film. Hal Ashby edited it. The evidence of their skills is up there on the screen in this film and several others. It was Jewison who insisted that Steiger gain some weight and hang his gut over his belt.

• The print that played on TCF was immaculate. The film is beautiful. Haskell Wexler was the cinematographer.

• Stirling Silliphant wrote the screenplay, but Robert Alan Aurthur wrote the first treatment. As for the film’s most famous scene, see Mark Harris’s Pictures At a Revolution. According to producer Walter Mirisch, Aurthur deserves some credit for it.

• Quincy Jones wrote the score, Marilyn and Alan Bergman wrote the lyrics for the theme song, and Jones recruited Ray Charles to sing it. Charles insisted on “watching” the movie before agreeing to sing the theme song. When he heard the film’s most famous scene at the screening for him, Charles exclaimed: “Maximum green!”

• My point, and I do have one, is that a lot of talent went into the final product.

• Sidney Poitier was never better. He sweats in the heat of the night, but his suit remains clean, buttoned, and pressed.

• The screenplay slightly overdoes the Poitier character’s professional brilliance and perhaps the Steiger character’s racism, but it gives the Steiger character a redeeming moment at the end. Seeing Steiger walking with Poitier at the train station as Poitier leaves town — I won’t mention the business that illustrates the Steiger character’s evolution — is, in its own way, the true killer.

• The flag this film carries is for justice and Poitier carries it in his inimitable style. Acknowledging the contribution of everyone else involved, Poitier makes the film.

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