There is a certain beauty when it comes to movies in the sense that there are so many out there which have been seen and forgotten as the years unfold (or have been flat out forgotten about as other films have come out in subsequent eras). There may be an age cutoff for people who know of In the Heat of The Night through the television show which starred Carroll O'Conner and Howard Rollins. But for others this post-dates the critically acclaimed movie which, when seen today, would have to strike some sort of emotional chord.
Stirling Silliphant (Circle Of Iron) adapted the John Ball novel into a screenplay that Norman Jewison (The Hurricane) directed. Set in the town of Sparta, Mississippi, we find ourselves following Sam Wood (Warren Oates, The Wild Bunch), a Sparta police Sergeant patrolling the town in his cruiser. He comes across the body of white businessman from Chicago, in town looking at potential new opportunities for his business in Sparta. Soon, an African-American is arrested for the crime, mainly because he was at the train station with a large amount of money on him. But this African-American is actually a police detective in Philadelphia named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier, The Jackal), in town to visit his mother. He is eventually released and, despite his initial reluctance to do so, assists with the investigation into the murder, assisting the Sparta police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger, Doctor Zhivago), who is ripe with prejudice about Virgil's career and life standing. We get to witness the two attempt to find out the identity of the murder and perhaps not kill each other in the process.
What struck me over the course of In the Heat of The Night was that the film is incredibly bold considering the time that it was released, and there are so many scenes that help illustrate how pervasive racism was at the time. A scene where Virgil is getting set up with a car to help him travel independently for his investigation finds him talking with an African-American mechanic, and the mechanic laughs when Virgil suggests that he'll find a hotel to stay in, as if a hotel was even possible to obtain for Virgil. In Mississippi. In 1967. There are more overt moments as well, such as when Virgil is pursued by a group of locals who want to string Virgil up after he slaps a plantation owner he believes murdered the businessman. And an effective moment in the film for me was seeing the aftermath of that moment. Virgil is still emotionally charged after the event, and Bill is almost stunned to see this, and even hints that Virgil may possess some anger at the man he slapped more for the institutional biases rather than his actual ones.
There may be some qualms over how the murder investigation plays out in the film, but honestly I see the murder as more of a device to gauge where everyone's belief structure stands at that particular moment. Which is to say that the characters who are around, be it Virgil, Bill, Sam, or even the murdered businessman's wife (Lee Grant, Defending Your Life), all show us their thoughts on a black man in Mississippi, and some of them show us how they evolve in said thoughts over the course of the film. In the bigger picture, that is more important than finding out who killed the out-of-towner.
Seeing that In the Heat of The Night won five Oscars was interesting, but seeing that the film was up against competition like Bonnie and Clyde and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner tells you two things: not only were the merits wholly justified (Steiger won a Best Actor statue and rightfully so for his work, and Poitier was equally impressive, if not more so), but that for all the talk that creative forces such as Scorsese and Coppola brought Hollywood into more daring and bold material, in 1967 they seemed to be well on their way. It should be noted that Jewison, while nominated for a Director award, ultimately did not win. But the editor for In the Heat of The Night who DID win an Oscar was Hal Ashby, who went on to his own contributions to 1970s cinema like Harold and Maude and Being There.
For all of the films today that purport to be things that deserve or need to be seen, far fewer are ones that remain vital or even relevant to a cultural discussion that In the Heat of The Night has been. Coming up on half a century after its release it is full of memorable moments and performances that make it appointment viewing for those unfamiliar to its praise.
Fox gives an AVC encode to In the Heat of The Night is presents it in 1.85:1 widescreen and for a film of its age, looks very nice. Film grain is present though much of the film and colors are reproduced faithfully to the original intent. There were moments of image detail here and there that could be spotted, such as fibers on Bill's police shirt and jacket, and in the exteriors, the film possesses some background detail, albeit briefly. I have not seen the standard definition disc to determine how much (if any) of an upgrade this is from it, but it looks better than I anticipated it to be.
A surprise to see Fox give the film a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, especially considering how little the rear channels get to do over the course of the film. You get over the surprise real quick though, as the title song (sung by Ray Charles) sounds nicely balanced in the front of the soundstage and sounds clear as can be, and over the course of the film Quincy Jones' score sounds just as great. The dialogue sounds consistent throughout and despite a lack of directional effects or low-end engagement, the film (which also won an award for Best Sound) is effective listening throughout, minor grievance about excluding the original mono sound aside.
The extras from the 40th Anniversary Edition standard def disc, released in 2008, appear to have been brought over to this Blu-ray. Jewison, Steiger, Grant and cinematographer Haskell Wexler do a commentary which was pulled together from separate interviews and edited together. The apprehensions on making the film were recounted, and eventual casting and production choices talked about. Jewison and Wexler get into some memories on scene intent and shot breakdown, and Steiger gets into discussion on the weight gain. The group possess solid detail on the production and it is a excellent track.
Next up are three featurettes on the film, starting with "Turning Up The Heat" (21:10), which examines making the film during that particular era and includes appreciation from then-BET President Reginald Hudlin, director John Singleton and a few other historians, along with Jewison and Wexler. They cover the importance of Poitier in the film and his fears of shooting in Tennessee for a scene, and how elements of the film such as Jones' score and on some shots in it, and what makes the film so good. The piece covers enough without overstaying its welcome. Next is "The Slap Heard Around The World," (7:25), which looks at the memorable moment in it, with many of the same characters. "Breaking New Sound" (13:02) is an appreciation of Jones' score, featuring some peers who talk about it, including Herbie Hancock. Q talks about his inspiration for some of the music in it, and the theme song with Charles' participation is recounted. The film's trailer (2:48) completes things.
In the Heat of The Night remains as relevant to today's social and cultural ground as it did when it was released 47 years ago, with a bevy of solid performances by familiar faces to further boost its credibility. Technically, the disc looks and sounds excellent for its age, and while it would be nice to have some more supplements to enhance the experience, what exists on the disc is worth your added time to see. It is absolutely worth viewing for those who have not, and the transfer and sound may be enough to double-dip for existing holders of the previous editions.