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In the Heat of the Night 4K
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.
In The Heat Of The Night is presented in an HVEC encoded 2160p transfer framed properly at 1.85.1 widescreen. Presented without HDR or Dolby Vision enhancement, the transfer nevertheless looks excellent. Detail is frequently exceptional, not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well. The film's natural grain is retained and resolves nicely, never spiking or looking clumpy at all. There's a lot of appreciable depth and texture to the image, this transfer handily besting past home video releases, and there's very little print damage to note. Additionally, the image is free of any noticeable edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression problems. Skin tones look nice and natural, black levels are nice and deep and the picture is devoid of any obvious crush. It really does look excellent.
Kino offers 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Mono Master Audio options in English. Optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio is clear on both tracks, with the 5.1 spreading out the score and effects work a bit where the 2.0 cannot (otherwise they sound very similar). 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 for In The Heat Of The Night start off with a commentary track (carried over from the previous DVD release) 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 doesn't have a commentary on this release. Regardless, the commentary that is available on the DVD is worth your time to listen to as it's quite informative on both a technical and a historical level.
A second audio commentary features film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathanial Thompson with Robert Mirisch. Lots of insight here into the history of The Mirisch company and their involvement in the making of this film as well as plenty of biographical information on the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture and critical analysis of the film, its technical merits and the performances that it contains.
The rest of the extras are included on the accompanying Blu-ray disc (which does NOT include In The Heat Of The Night on it, just the following supplements.
The special features from the MGM special edition DVD are here, beginning with Turning Up The Heat: Making Movies In The Sixties, a twenty-two minute piece that begins with Jewison explaining what the original book was like. From there we hear from the producer who talks about the relevancy of the film. John Singleton expresses his admiration for the film and Dr. Imani Perry talks about what was happening in the United States as far as civil rights were concerned, with input from Dr. Todd Boyd. Plenty of photographs and clips from the film are used to accentuate different points made throughout the documentary, which serves to illustrate the importance of the film and the impact that it had.
The second featurette, the seven minute The Slap Heard Round The World talks about the importance of the scene where Poitier gets slapped by Larry Gates and then slaps him back in return, possibly the first time in a major motion picture where a black man slapped a white man in such a way. Jewison mentions that he never let the actors rehearse it and that Poitier's reaction was completely unexpected. A few of the same interviewees from the first documentary chime in here as well to give their thoughts on the impact that this scene still carries.
The last featurette, Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound, which runs thirteen minutes, allows the same interviewees to express their admiration for the work that Jones did on the film and to explain the impact that it had on Jones' career. Jones himself shows up on camera to tell us what his inspiration was for the music he created for the film, and how jazz, which was controversial at the time, wasn't really used in the movies until this film came around.
If that isn't enough, Kino has also supplied the two sequels to the film on the included Blu-ray disc. Both of these are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio and optional English subtitles and they look and sound quite good, if slightly compressed.
They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970)
Poitier resumes his role of Virgil Tibbs, and finds himself in San Francisco in this semi-sequel to In The Heat Of The Night. When a hooker who goes by the name of Miss Joy, is found dead, Tibbs is called in on the case.
He gives the crime scene a thorough look over, searching for clues and evidence of any kind that he can use to piece together the crime in hopes of finding the murderer. Unfortunately for Tibbs, the Reverend Sharpe (Martin Landau) is a prime suspect, and also an old friend of his, which makes the case all the more important for him. Sharpe is not only a religious leader but also a somewhat political figurehead in the community as well. The other suspect is a real estate agent named Woody Garfield (Ed Asner). Garfield has a skeleton or two in his closet though, as he has a history of affiliating with some of the local pimps.
As the investigation, and the movie, proceeds Tibbs finds himself tangled up with some sinister drug dealers and also trying to balance some domestic issues of his own involving his wife and his son on top of his police duties.
Poitier once again turns in a powerhouse performance. This second of the Virgil Tibbs films is a bit heavier on the action than the first one, but it only works in the films favor as Poitier proves he not only has the chops for drama but for gritty crime action as well.
Directorial duties this time around are handled by Gordon Douglas (who directed a personal favorite of mine, Viva Kneivel!), and while it's not as visually rock solid as Jewison's turn on in the heat of the night, Douglas proves he has a knack for urban crime films with this film as it will keep you interested from start to finish.
The Organization (1971)
Famed television director Don Medford helms the third Virgil Tibbs film that places the Lieutenant in the world of international drug smuggling. The story begins when a gang of young political activists burglarizes the corporate headquarters of a large company that builds furniture and make off with $5,000,000 worth of heroin. Their idea is that if they steal it, they'll be able to keep it off of the streets in San Francisco and they obviously feel quite passionate about this as they were all once junkies themselves and are well aware of the dangers that the drug place on society.
Once they get away with the theft, they call Lt. Tibbs for help. Tibbs isn't particularly impressed with this idea and sees the well intentioned thieves as just that, thieves, regardless of whether or not their hearts where in the right place.
Soon though the gang is falsely accused of a murder that they did not commit and Tibbs puts his hesitations behind him and agrees to, without the knowledge of or approval from the police department he works for, help clear them of the charges.
While not as strong as the first two films in the Mr. Tibbs series, it's still a suspenseful and well-paced crime story with another strong turn by Poitier. Medford keeps the movie running at a brisk pace and his experience with television crime classics such as The Streets Of San Francisco and Beretta are evident in the way the movie is structured, giving it a grittier and more tense feeling than the earlier entries.
Rounding out the disc are trailers for each of the three films, menus and chapter stops. The two discs fit inside a black keepcase that in turn fits inside a slipcover.
Kino's UHD release of In The Heat Of The Night is great. The transfer and sound mix are both improved and the addition of some interesting and in-depth supplements really serve to add some value and context to the package and on top of that we get the two sequels to the original classic. Poitier's performance remains as powerful as ever, as does the performance from Steiger, and the movie truly stands the test of time as an exciting and culturally important thriller. 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.