In the Heat of the Night (film)
In the Heat of the Night is a 1967 American mystery drama film directed by Norman Jewison. It is based on John Ball's 1965 novel of the same name and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and was produced by Walter Mirisch. The screenplay was by Stirling Silliphant.
|In the Heat of the Night|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Norman Jewison|
|Produced by||Walter Mirisch|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Based on||a novel by John Ball|
|Music by||Quincy Jones|
|Cinematography||Haskell Wexler, A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Hal Ashby|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$24.3 million|
Although the film was set in the fictional Mississippi town of Sparta (with supposedly no connection to the real Sparta, Mississippi), most of the movie was filmed in Sparta, Illinois, where many of the film's landmarks can still be seen. The quote "They call me Mister Tibbs!" was listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1966, a wealthy industrialist named Phillip Colbert has moved from Chicago to Sparta, Mississippi, to build a factory there. Late one night, police officer Sam Wood discovers Colbert's murdered body lying in the street.
Chief Gillespie leads the investigation. A doctor estimates that Colbert had been dead for a few hours. Wood, sent by the chief to check out various town access and exit points, finds a black man, Virgil Tibbs, at the train station and arrests him. Gillespie accuses Tibbs of the murder, and is embarrassed to learn Tibbs is a police officer from Philadelphia. Gillespie phones Tibbs's chief, who informs Gillespie that Tibbs is a top homicide detective and recommends that he should assist the investigation. The idea does not appeal to either Gillespie or Tibbs, but for reasons of their own they reluctantly agree. Tibbs examines Colbert's body and concludes the murder happened earlier than the doctor had estimated, that the killer was right-handed, and that the body had been killed elsewhere and then moved to where it was found.
Gillespie arrests another suspect, Harvey Oberst, who protests his innocence. The police are planning to beat a confession out of him, until Tibbs learns Oberst is left-handed and has an alibi backed up by witnesses, which clears him of the murder. The victim's widow is frustrated by the ineptitude of the police and impressed by Tibbs. She threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, and the town's leading citizens are forced to go along with her wish. The two policemen begin to respect each other as they are forced to work together.
Tibbs initially suspects plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the most powerful individuals in town, who publicly opposed the new factory. When Tibbs interrogates Endicott, Endicott slaps him in the face and Tibbs slaps him back. Endicott sends a gang of hooligans after Tibbs. Gillespie rescues Tibbs and tells him to leave town for his safety, but Tibbs is convinced he can solve the case and take Endicott down. Gillespie points out to Tibbs how bitter he has become.
Tibbs asks Wood to re-trace his car patrol route on the night of the murder, and Gillespie joins them. When they arrive at an all-night restaurant, Ralph, working behind the counter, refuses to serve Tibbs. Later, when Tibbs asks Wood why he changed his route, Gillespie starts suspecting Wood. Gillespie discovers that Wood made a sizable deposit into his bank account the day after the murder. Gillespie arrests Wood despite Tibbs's protests. Purdy, a nasty local, brings his 16-year-old sister, Delores, to the police station and files charges against Wood for getting her pregnant. Upon hearing that it concerns Wood, Tibbs insists on being present when Delores is questioned. Purdy at first refuses to have anything said in front of Tibbs, but he is easily rebuffed by both Tibbs and Gillespie, and the questioning goes ahead. Insulted and offended that a black man was present, Purdy gathers a mob intending to do violence against Tibbs. Meanwhile Tibbs tells Gillespie that the murder was committed at the site of the planned factory, which clears Wood of the murder charge, because he couldn't have driven both his and Colbert's car back into town (a factor prefigured when Gillespie leaves his vehicle outside Ralph's restaurant to join Tibbs in Wood's car). Tibbs adds that he knows why Wood changed his route: Delores while at home alone at night likes to display her naked body to whoever is outside, and Wood, who watches her while on duty, doesn't want Tibbs to see a white woman in the nude.
Tibbs visits a backstreet abortionist, who under pressure reveals that she is about to perform an abortion on Delores. Delores arrives, sees Tibbs, and runs away. Tibbs follows her and comes face to face with her armed boyfriend, Ralph, from the restaurant. At that moment Purdy's mob arrives on the scene and holds Tibbs at gunpoint. Tibbs shouts at Purdy to check Delores' purse, that it contains money Ralph gave her for an abortion, which he got when he robbed and killed Colbert. Purdy grabs the purse and looks inside, and realizes Tibbs is right. Purdy confronts Ralph for getting his sister pregnant, and a startled Ralph shoots Purdy dead. Tibbs grabs Ralph's gun, and just then Gillespie arrives on the scene. Ralph is arrested and confesses to Colbert's murder: he had started out just asking Colbert for a job at the new factory, but ended up attacking him from behind with a wooden post and taking his money. "I didn't mean to kill him. That's all" are the final words of Ralph's taped confession.
The final scene shows Tibbs boarding a train bound for Philadelphia, as Gillespie, having carried his suitcase, respectfully bids him farewell.
Jewison, Poitier, and Steiger worked together and got along well during the filming, but Jewison had problems with the Southern authorities, and Poitier had reservations about coming south of the Mason–Dixon line for filming. However, despite their reservations, Jewison decided to film part of the film in Dyersburg and Union City, Tennessee, anyway while the rest was filmed in Sparta, Chester (Harvey Oberst chase scene), and Freeburg (Compton's diner), Illinois.
The famous scene of Tibbs slapping Endicott is not present in the novel. According to Poitier, the scene was almost not in the movie. In the textbook Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA 1850-2009 (Access to History), Poitier states: "I said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll make this movie for you if you give me your absolute guarantee when he slaps me I slap him right back and you guarantee that it will play in every version of this movie.' I try not to do things that are against nature." However, Poitier's version of the story is contradicted by Mark Harris in his book, Pictures at a Revolution. Harris states that copies of the original draft of the screenplay that he obtained clearly contain the scene as filmed, which is backed up by Jewison and Silliphant.
The film is also important for being the first major Hollywood film in color that was lit with proper consideration for a black person. Haskell Wexler recognized that standard strong lighting used in filming tended to produce too much glare on dark complexions and rendered the features indistinct. Accordingly, Wexler toned it down to feature Poitier with better photographic results.
The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, and the soundtrack album was released on the United Artists label in 1967. The title song performed by Ray Charles, composed by Quincy Jones, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman was released as a single by ABC Records and reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #21 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.
AllMusic's Steven McDonald said the soundtrack had "a tone of righteous fury woven throughout" and that "the intent behind In the Heat of the Night was to get a Southern, blues-inflected atmosphere to support the angry, anti-racist approach of the picture ... although the cues from In the Heat of the Night show their age". The Vinyl Factory said "this soundtrack to a film about racism in the South has a cool, decidedly Southern-fried sound with funk-bottomed bluesy touches, like on the strutting 'Cotton Curtain', the down 'n' dirty 'Whipping Boy' or the fat 'n' sassy 'Chief's Drive to Mayor'".
All compositions by Quincy Jones
In contrast to films like The Chase and Hurry Sundown, which offered confused visions of the South, In the Heat of the Night offered a tough, edgy vision of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders more than itself, a theme reflecting the uncertain mood of the time as the civil rights movement attempted to take hold. Canadian director Jewison wanted to tell an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together in spite of difficulties. Jewison said that this film proved a conviction he had held for a long time: "It's you against the world. It's like going to war. Everybody is trying to tell you something different and they are always putting obstacles in your way."
In one famous scene, Gillespie mocks the name "Virgil" by saying, "That's a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia! What do they call you up there?" An annoyed Tibbs replies, "They call me Mister Tibbs!" The line was later listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes, and was also the title of the sequel. An iconic scene that surprised and perhaps shocked audiences at the time occurs when Tibbs is slapped by Endicott. Tibbs responds by slapping him back.
In a San Francisco pre-screening, Jewison was concerned when the young audience was laughing at the film as if it were a comedy. The audience's stunned reaction to the slapping scene convinced Jewison that the film was effective as drama. That scene helped make the film so popular for audiences, finally seeing the top black film actor physically strike back against bigotry, that the film earned the nickname, Super-spade Versus the Rednecks. During the film's initial run, Steiger and Poitier occasionally went to the Capitol Theatre in New York to amuse themselves seeing how many black and white audience members there were, which could be immediately ascertained by listening to the former cheering Tibbs's retaliatory slap and the latter whispering "Oh!" in astonishment.
Then-freshman critic Roger Ebert in 1967 gave In the Heat of the Night a positive review and placed it at number ten on his top ten list of 1967 films. A.D. Murphy of Variety felt it was a good but uneven film.
The film currently holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, out of 46 reviews collected with an average rating of 8.2/10. Its consensus states, "Tense, funny, and thought-provoking all at once, and lifted by strong performances from Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger, director Norman Jewison's look at murder and racism in small-town America continues to resonate today."
Evaluation in film guidesEdit
Steven H. Scheuer's Movies on TV (1972–73 edition) gives In the Heat of the Night its highest rating of 4 stars, recommending it as an "[E]xciting, superbly acted and directed film about prejudice, manners and morals in a small Mississippi town", with the concluding sentences stating, "[D]irector Norman Jewison does an outstanding job in creating the subsurface tension of life in a 'sleepy' Southern town, and the supporting performances are uniformly fine. A first-rate film in all respects." Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide (1989 edition) follows Scheuer's example with its own highest rating of 4 stars, concluding that "[M]arvelous social thriller hasn't dated one bit—tough, funny, and atmospheric, with unbeatable acting and splendid Quincy Jones score. Five Oscars include Best Picture ..."
Mick Martin's & Marsha Porter's DVD & Video Guide (2007 edition) also puts its rating high, at 4 stars (out of 5), finding it "[A] rousing murder mystery elevated by the excellent acting of Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier."
British references, likewise, show high regard for the film, with David Shipman in his 1984 The Good Film and Video Guide giving 3 (out of 4) stars, noting that "[A]s mystery or detective story this film is only fair, but it has enormous tension. Within its given framework, it is good on the colour question. There is tension in the eyes of the black (Sidney Poitier), who happens to be a homicide officer, and malevolence in those of the local police chief (Rod Steiger). These are two remarkable performances, well supported by Warren Oates, Lee Grant and Larry Gates."
Another British film critic with a highly personal Film Guide, Leslie Halliwell, gave 2 stars (out of 4) describing it in the 5th edition (1985) as an "[O]verrated policier in which the personality clash is amusing (and was timely) but the murder puzzle is a complete throwaway." The Guide continued to be published after Halliwell's death in 1989 and, in the 21st edition, Halliwell's Film Video & DVD Guide 2007, John Walker, who took over as the Guide's author, raised the rating to the highest level of 4 stars and rewrote the evaluation to state that it is "[A] tense and exciting thriller that also explores racism through the explosive clash of two contrasting personalities."
American Film Institute recognition