As a movie fan there are always those films you hear about, and know the big quotes from that you haven’t actually seen. The Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night is one of those films. Of course, I have seen the iconic scene where Sidney Poitier’s character says “They call me Mr Tibbs” to Rod Steiger’s Sheriff Gillespie. With such memorable moments it really is an ideal film to pick for this Blind Spot series.
It’s funny this trailer makes In the Heat of the Night look like an action film, which it really isn’t. It has some police procedural moments but it is mostly characters sitting around a hot police station arguing. I know it is based off of a popular novel but it feels more like something from a play. It has that all set in one room quality of films like 12 Angry Men and Fences for long segments.
The story centers around Poitier’s Tibbs who is in Sparta, Mississippi when he is stopped by police to help with a murder investigation. Tibbs is a homicide investigator and the local police led by Steiger’s Gillespie aren’t trained in how to investigate such crimes. Of course being a powerful Black man in Mississippi in the 1960s is fraught with peril for Tibbs and he knows it (obviously, he’s a smart man so he knows to be afraid).
One of the most powerful and shocking scenes is when Tibbs is slapped by a man they are questioning named Endicott and he slaps him right back. Evidently Poitier insisted this be a part of the scene to director Norman Jewison and I’m glad they kept it in. It’s such an intense moment and when Endicott says “I could have had you shot for that” we all know he is right. It’s chilling.
My only real qualm with the film is the fighting back and forth between Gillespie and Tibbs starts to feel repetitive after a while. It could have benefited from a slightly tighter edit because some of those scenes aren’t teaching us anything new about the characters and start to lose their efficacy because we’ve seen them several times already.
Other than that, In the Heat of the Night is an extremely well directed and acted film. I appreciate it doesn’t try to have inspirational moments and keeps characters messy and complex. There are many scenes that still feel relevant today as we still struggle with police treatment of Black men and women. Poitier and Steiger are fantastic as well as all the supporting work. I can see why it won 5 Oscars. A classic.
8 out of 10
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