An African American police detective assists a
murder investigation in a small Mississippi town.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Directed by Norman Jewison
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates,
Lee Grant, Larry Gates, James Patterson, Peter Whitney,
Scott Wilson, Quentin Dean
Based on the novel by John Ball
Oscar Wins - Best Picture, Best Actor (Rod Steiger),
Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Film Editing
Oscar Nominations - Best Director, Best Sound Editing
In the Heat of the Night is one of those films that will always be culturally relevant so long as racism is so prevalent in our society. It's counted among the best films of all time and even holds the title of Best Picture. It's definitely earned all these accolades, as it's remained an expertly written inside look at small town racism and the tight hold it has on the American south. The fantastic performances of Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger have helped keep this film in the forefront of cinematic history. And on top of all that, it's also an intriguing murder mystery.
Sidney Poitier plays the now iconic Virgil Tibbs, a police detective from Philadelphia who gets arrested in Sparta, Mississippi for the crime of being a black man minding his own business. When Police Chief Gillespie (Steiger) discovers he's a cop, he convinces him to help the local police solve the murder of the wealthy Mr. Colbert. These two heavyweights have surprisingly good chemistry and their growing relationship over the course of the film is done really well. It doesn't feel insincere, either. You believe that these two unmarried lawmen could've been friends in another life and its only the centuries of unwritten racial injustice that keep them from respecting each other until the end of the film.
In the Heat of the Night is a great film that's built upon memorable characters and an original script that isn't afraid to highlight the uncomfortable moments of racial prejudice. It's tough to watch at times, especially when Tibbs is jumped by a gang of racists only to be saved at the last minute. You empathize with his struggle and you hope he will show this whole town up by solving the murder. This film is an engaging crime drama that continues to resonate today.