The Best Picture winner of 1967 is one terrific noir. But it’s far more than that. Culturally, it was an important part of the civil rights movement, while still being an effective whodunit. It also used color film in ways that few had been rarely successful before – especially in noir. Kino Lorber is selling a 4K 2-disc set of In the Heat of the Night.
A brilliant, African American homicide detective from Philadelphia (Sidney Poitier) finds himself in a small, redneck town in Mississippi, when an important member of the community has just been murdered. Keep in mind that the film was made and set during the civil rights era. To the white people of Sparta, Mississippi, the very idea of a black homicide detective seems ridiculous. But the chief of police desperately (Rod Steiger) needs to find the murderer.
There’s no romantic subplot – rare in a Hollywood film. Instead, it has two men who hate each other from the start. Poitier gets top billing – he is the hero – but it was Steiger who got the Oscar. That’s fair. Poitier’s character doesn’t change through the film. Steiger’s bigoted sheriff must slowly realize that this Black man is much smarter than he is – something that he’s been raised to believe is impossible.
On the other hand, chewing gum probably helped Steiger win that Oscar. He chews slowly when thinking. Faster when confused. When mad, he spits it out. Warren Oates plays a wonderful comic figure as a not-too-smart cop.
Stirling Silliphant wrote the screenplay from a novel by John Ball, and directed by Norman Jewison (who, despite his name, isn’t Jewish).
How It Looks
This was cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s first color film, and he did a beautiful job. Color films in the mid-60s were mostly bright. But Wexler found ways to give a noirish look with a rainbow of colors. He also knew the difference between lighting for white actors and black actors (something that was rare at the time).
Kino Lorber gives us a wonderful 4K transfer. You can see the grain. And through that grain, you can see the depth within the shadows.
The image is presented in the original 1.85×1 aspect ratio.
How It Sounds
The disc offers four different audio choices:
- Original mono soundtrack: How it originally sounded, presented on DTS-HD 2.0 (technically, it’s two-track stereo, but since the two tracks are identical, it’s basically mono).
- New DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. mix. This new soundtrack doesn’t try to make it sound like the most recent superhero movie. It’s a mild mix that feels something like the original mono.
- Audio Commentary by Film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson, along with Robert Mirisch, who’s related to producer Walter Mirisch. Much of the discussion revolves around the Mirisch Company, which is fascinating considering the major films the company made. Poitier died just days before this commentary was recorded.
- Audio Commentary made up from other interviews – mostly by director Norman Jewison and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. They’re both fascinating. Also comments from actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant. One of the best put-together commentaries I’ve heard.
And the Extras (on a second Blu-ray disc)
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs! 108 minutes. In a sequel to Heat of the Night, Virgil Tibbs is now a homicide detective with the San Francisco police (I thought he lived in Philadelphia). Poitier just stands and talks with few expressions. He’s boring on the job and makes a horrible father and husband. There are scenes that reminded me of Police Squad. I gave up after about an hour.
- The Organization: 1:06 minutes. This is the sequel to the sequel. Rotten Tomatoes gives this one a grade of 25%. I have no intention of watching this movie.
- Turning Up the Heat: Movie Making in the 60’s: 21 minutes. A montage of filmmakers and critics talking about In Heat of the Night. Worth watching.
- The Slap Heart Around the World: seven minutes. This short talks about how they shot the famous scene, and how it changed the culture. After all, it’s probably the first time a black man slapped a white man in a Hollywood movie.
- Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound: 13 minutes. If you like jazz, and movie scores, watch this one.
- Trailers for all three feature films.
What they missed: There’s no mention of the television show In the Heat of the Night.