My grandmother loved her action movies and TV shows. I spent the majority of my childhood with her. Hence, I was no stranger to the show In the Heat of the Night starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard E. Rollins Jr. The series focused on the Sparta Mississippi police department and all the drama associated with being cops in a southern community. I remember there were many great stories and several cliffhangers that left you wanting more. It was entertaining from start to finish and dealt with many different tones of the day, including racism.
Fast forward almost 30 years later, and let me tell you how shocked I was to learn that the Best Picture in 1967 was entitled In the Heat of the Night and featured some of my favourite characters from a TV show from my youth.
I instantly connected with the two leads, Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poiter) and Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), because I already knew them. What blew me away was introducing these iconic characters to people who never read the book of the same name. It was fascinating to see these two get introduced for the first time and how reluctant they are to help one another.
I really enjoyed the film because the writers did a fantastic job keeping us, the audience, on our toes on who done it. They explore about half a dozen suspects, and unless you read the script, I doubt that you really knew the killer was.
This film came out in 1967 and did not shy away from issues at the time, issues that still linger to this day. Tibbs is initially arrested for simply being black. Virgil receives numerous threats, not just by words but by weapons too. The locals just want him to leave town. Chief Gillespie is there every step of the way pushing Tibbs to leave, yet is never far away to bail out his new friend when he’s in danger. The two develop a unique working relationship, which is one reason this film’s so great.
I’m ashamed to say it’s taken me forever to watch this movie, and I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again. I spent a lot of time researching the book on Amazon and the TV show shortly thereafter. This film brought back so many memories of my childhood that I want to go back in time and rewatch the show’s entire eight seasons.
I know many of my readers question my taste in movies and how quick I am to point flaws in our movies that are great. I recently complained about a movie that had a plot that we’ve seen a hundred times before. The same could be said about In the Heat of the Night, yet here I am defending how amazing this particular film, one with a plot that has been recycled so often, is tough to count.
One of the biggest reasons this was so successful was it came out when the nation was trying to heal and form new bonds between races. This story treads on both sides of the line and brings it together quite nicely. I really enjoyed this film and consider it one of the better Best Picture winners I’ve seen. 8/10