31 Days, 31 Movies 12/20: In the Heat of the Night
“They call me Mr. Tibbs!” End of review, thank you for stopping by. Like, comment, and subscribe.
In the Heat of the Night is a pretty standard mystery, man winds up dead, turns out it’s because of a girl and some lies. The whodunit is the least interesting part of In the Heat of the Night watching Detective Tibbs and Chief Gillespie make their way through the small town in Mississippi questioning and collecting clues is the part of the film that has aged the worst. However, the performances are timeless. Poitier and Rod Steiger in particular are revelations in this movie. Watching Poitier stoically move his way through Sparta, Mississippi makes you understand why this performance is considered his greatest, above even Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The sequence at the beginning of the film when we meet Detective Tibbs and it seems like he doesn’t speak a word for about 20-minutes is just an incredible display of acting to watch. Poitier gives a more stoic performance in In the Heat of the Night than I am used to seeing from him. He is one of the best actors I’ve seen to operate in the silence; only Denzel Washington ad Humphrey Bogart could do more with less word than Sidney Poitier.
In the Heat of the Night is a surprisingly competent story of race relations in the Jim Crow South. Tibbs’ relationship with the Sparta police officers, especially Bill Gillespie are complex and well developed and besides how overt some of the racism is there isn’t much out of date in the racial plot of the film. Both a point of pride for the film and shame for modern America. It is Poitier and Steiger’s chemistry that furthers the ethos of the film. Together they tell such a complex relationship that believably develops over the film. While “Virgil, you take care. You hear.” feels like too neat a bow to tie on the end of the film considering the realistic and difficult themes that the film was not afraid to lean in to, it is still to this one of the best treatments of race in a film even over 40 years later.
If I could there are so many movies I would love to go back in time and reshoot with modern technology. Admittedly that might be one of the dumber uses for a time machine I’ve ever heard but still. Imagine In the Heat of the Night with the benefit of modern sound and camera equipment. Even improving on the sound editing of this movie would drastically increase it’s quality, especially with how great the movie’s score is. But also to be clear, never, ever remake this movie. There’s really no reason to; you could write a movie today about a black city detective who goes to Bumfuckville, WV and helps their racist police force solve a mystery gaining their begrudging respect even if he leaves the town with the people he helped hating him because of the color of his skin. I would watch Forest Whitaker or Denzel Washington play that part tomorrow, just don’t name the character Mr. Tibbs.
Watching one of the greatest film actors to ever do it is always going to make for a great movie. Alongside an incredible Sidney Poitier performance In the Heat of the Night boasts strong supporting performances and a compelling, if familiar, central mystery.