Directed by Norman Jewison
Screenplay by Sterling Silliphant
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler
Film Editor: Hal Ashby
Music by Quincy Jones
Starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert, Matt Clark, Scott Wilson
In The Heat Of The Night (1967) has stood for more than 50 years as proof you can make a movie about a subject like racism and still offer up something exciting, suspenseful and entertaining. A quick look at the pictures usually covered on this blog will show I don’t care much for Message Movies, and I firmly believe issues like racism are better handled in “regular” movies like the 1956 Westerns The Searchers or Reprisal! And in the case of In The Heat Of The Night, the “regular movie” is a murder mystery in a small Southern town.
Fact is, In The Heat Of The Night is just a cool movie, period. It’s directed, shot, edited and scored in that distinctive 60s style that makes for so many cool movies. Sidney Poitier is terrific, and Rod Steiger makes his tendency to overplay things work to his advantage. Everybody brought their A game to this one — and it toted off a stack of Oscars to prove it.
Here, the South isn’t portrayed in a positive light, but at least the accents aren’t an insult to those of us with Southern accents. Interestingly, the TV show that followed almost 20 years later is the movie’s complete opposite — it was heavy-handed in a way the movie’s not, and the fake accents will make you cringe.
This was Scott Wilson’s first movie; next came In Cold Blood (1967) and many other great things. He passed away last week, and I hope the upcoming Criterion release will remind folks of all he could do. He was so good, and so overlooked.
I can’t recommend In The Heat Of The Night enough, and I’m sure Criterion will do a terrific job with it. It’s coming in January.