“A black Philadelphia police detective is mistakenly suspected of a local murder while passing through a racially hostile Mississippi town, and after being cleared is reluctantly asked by the police chief to investigate the case.”

Director: Norman Jewison
Writers: Stirling Silliphant, John Ball (based on a novel by)
Staring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Streiger, Warren Oates
Release Date: August 2, 1967

Listen, i know that I am 55 years late to this party, but In The Heat Of The Night (1955) is an awesome watch. I know, heart-pounding analysis, right?

I am not going to break any new ground in terms of my thoughts on In The Heat Of The Night, but it is crazy watching this movie now and knowing when it was made. It is also scarier that some of the racist themes explored in the movie are still relevant today. Not going to be political, but there are dots you can connect.

The obvious atmosphere of racism that reeks from the isolated Mississippi town allow for the hero’s story to be even more impactful. What Sidney Poitier does in the role of Virgil Tibbs is outstanding. Just outstanding. He is like superman going up against foes he knows he must tolerate but the is ultimately better than. But don’t push his buttons too much, because then he will slap you back, and I mean that literally.

Anyone who is a fan of movies has heard the quote “The call me mister Tibbs.” and they have seen the slap heard round the world. To see those transpire within the movie and have the proper context just makes them even more memorable.

The crazy thing is that Poitier wasn’t nominated for this role at all. He was nominated for two Oscars in his lifetime, one being The Defiant Ones (1959) where he was the first black man ever nominated for Best Actor, and then he won in 1963 for Lilies Of The Field (1963), where he became to first ever black actor to win the award. Potier was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Foreign Actor for In The Heat Of The Night.

Poitier’s co-star Rod Steiger won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role…but did he really lead the movie? Wasn’t Mr. Tibbs the turn-style for the story? I think that is some nomination chicanery at the 1968 Academy Awards if you ask me. And looking at the other nominees from that year…man it was stacked some heavy hitters. Dustin Hoffman for The Graduate (1967), Spencer Tracy in Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner (1967), Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Warren Beatty in Bonnie And Clyde (1967). Fun fact, Poitier was also in Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner. Just a monster pool.

With that being said, I have seen In The Heat Of The Night, The Graduate and Cool Hand Luke, and the one performance I remember more than the rest of them is Paul Newman as Luke. He would be getting my vote.

Looking at the 1968 Academy Awards, did they like having grumpy old characters winning the awards? Steiger as Gillespie is not the most pleasant fellow, though he does appear to learn some lessons. In the supporting category George Kennedy won for his portrayal of the nasty Dragline. Neither men will be getting many visitors to their respective funerals.

Alright, have I ad-libbed enough? I had to fill some space somehow. I can’t just come here to this blank page and type In The Heat Of The Night is good because, well, everyone knows it is. But now that i have filled its success with some context and given a brief synopsis of trophy circuit, I can end this by stating the obvious.

Go watch In The Heat Of The Night. It is excellent. Poitier is phenomenal, Steiger is wonderful as his learning reluctant odd-couple buddy and the setting and actions of the story are still, unfortunately, viable in some parts of the world today. Go watch a movie star flourish and tower over everyone who fears and leers him. That is the beauty of In The Heat Of The Night.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.0/5 Stars)


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