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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » In the Heat of the Night (Blu-ray)
In the Heat of the Night (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // January 29, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted January 28, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Based on John Ball's 1965 novel of the same name, Norman Jewison's 1967 film In The Heat Of The Night introduces us to one Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). He's a detective working the homicide beat in Philadelphia who goes back home to the Southern United States town of Sparta, Mississippi, to visit his aging mother. Shortly before he shows a white man of high social stature named Phillip Colbert is found murdered. Tibbs is promptly arrested by a local officer named Sam Wood (Warren Oates) simply because the color of his skin makes the local authorities suspicious that he may have had something to do with the killing.

Eventually the police realize who he is and he's released, but not before Tibbs' superior officer offers his skills as a detective to the southern police who are in dire need of help. It seems that small town cops don't always have much experience with these types of cases at all, but Tibbs is a seasoned professional and he knows what he's doing. This is obvious to Mrs. Colbert (Lee Grant), who recognizes Tibbs' skills as a detective while simultaneously realizing the deficiencies of the local cops.

Tibbs begrudgingly works together with the local police chief, Bill Gillespie (played brilliantly by Rod Steiger), hardly the most open-minded guy around, but he eventually comes to respect him even if he has trouble admitting it. Tibbs starts to figure that Endicott (Larry Gates) may have had something to do with the murder, as he was pretty vocal in his opposition to Colbert's business plans. Endicott is also blatantly racist and not only refuses to cooperate with a black cop but actively opposes his presence. Together Tibbs and Gillespie set out to find who killed Colbert and as they do so, they're both able to change each other for the better while, at the same time, having to deal with a whole lot of racism and prejudice.

In The Heat Of The Night was nominated for seven Oscars and walked away from the Academy Awards winning five of them, and honestly, it deserved every single one of them. In the hands of a lesser director and an inferior cast, this could have come across as hackneyed or overdone despite the genuine validity of its message but thankfully that doesn't happen here. The film retains a gritty realism throughout that makes all of this work, makes it seem completely believable and completely honest in its depictions of racial tensions. The excellent screenplay from Stirling Silliphant helps here a lot as well, translating the characters from page to screen beautifully. To Jewison's credit he keeps the pace tight but never at the expense of character development, allowing the mystery to unfold and the storytelling to pull us in without ever getting too heavy-handed with the film's social and political messaging. The film is also quite funny sometimes, with the humor handled well and with the appropriate level of maturity so as to never delve into the realm of bad taste.

The cast really sells this one, however. Poitier is excellent in the lead and shows great range in his portrayal running gamut from angry to concerned and back again with ease. Steiger is just as good, if not better, in his portrayal of an ignorant small-town cop and is totally believable in this film. A great supporting cast (including a supporting role from cult favorite Warren Oates as Officer Wood) make this film a true pleasure to watch.

Production values are also very strong. The score from Quincy Jones (and the great title song performed by Ray Charles) does what a great score should do and that's to accentuate the action, heighten the drama and to help build suspense. Haskell Wexler;s cinematography is also very good, capturing the mood of the film rather well and framing the action perfectly.

The Video:

In The Heat Of The Night arrives on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. This blows the previous Blu-ray that MGM released some years ago out of the water. Detail is vastly improved and the image is organically film-like throughout, meaning we get a natural amount of film grain and no obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or artificial sharpening. This looks like film, as it should. The image is also virtually pristine, showing no noticeable print damage and demonstrating great skin tones and strong black levels. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to complain about nor are there any problems with black crush or banding. This transfer is excellent.

The Audio:

The only audio option on the disc is an English language LPCM Mono mix with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio is clear throughout. The score sounds nice, with good range to it, while dialogue stays clear from start to finish. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.

The Extras:

Carried over from the previous MGM DVD is a commentary track from director Norman Jewison, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and cast members Lee Grant and Rod Steiger. It's quite an interesting track though it's a shame that Poitier wasn't involved at all. Regardless, the commentary that is available in the set is worth your time to listen to as it's quite interesting on both a technical and a historical level.

There is a nice array of extras here as well, starting with a thirteen-minute interview with director Norman Jewison who speaks about what went into getting this film backed and made by a larger studio, bringing Poitier onto the project and the importance of his presence in the film, how Poitier and Steiger got along during the shoot, and what it was like working with Warren Oates as well. It's a good piece, quite interesting even if it does cover some of the same ground as the older commentary track. Also new to this release is a fifteen-minute interview with actress Lee Grant wherein she speaks very bluntly about the shape of her career around this time (she was blacklisted at one point and she's very vocal about this aspect of things!), how she got along with Poitier and what it was like doing scenes with him and her thoughts on getting back into acting with this picture and on the character that she played. Both of these are great, very worthy additions to the disc.

Crtierion has also provided an eight-minute segment from an 2006 American Film Institute retrospective piece called 100 Years…100 Cheers that interviews Sidney Poitier where he speaks about the part he played in the film as well as the infamous slapping scene. Also new to this release is an interview with Aram Goudsouzian, the author of Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon here, over the span of eighteen-minutes, he speaks about how and why Poitier came to be as well regarded an actor as he is, the significance of his work on this particular film, how the Black Panthers famously spoke out against Poitier's work and how Hollywood was able to successfully market him to a white audience.

Carried over from the special edition MGM DVD release is Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making In The '60s, a twenty-one-minute 2008 documentary that covers the production of the film and also discusses its importance. Interviewed here are Jewison, Wexler, producer Walter Mirisch and filmmakers John Singleton and Reginald Hudlin. Also carried over from the DVD is Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound, a thirteen-minute piece that details Jones's soundtrack work, including the title Ray Charles song, that is made up of interviews with Jones, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman and musician Herbie Hancock. Both of these are definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen them before.

A theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection round out the extras on the disc. This release also includes a color insert book that provides credits for the feature, notes on the restoration and an essay on the film by critic K. Austin Collins. It's also worth pointing out the excellent cover artwork by Sean Phillips (the man who illustrated Criminal, The Fade Out and quite a few other excellent comic books).

Overall:

In The Heat Of The Night remains just as powerful today as it must have been when first released and it has lost none of its ability to hold its audience captive for the duration of its running time. Poitier and Steiger are excellent here and the film benefits from a strong supporting cast as well. Jewison's direction is top notch and the production values, overall, are impressive. Equally impressive is Criterion's Blu-ray release, which presents the film in fantastic shape and with a host of impressive extra features as well. Highly recommended!

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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