In the Heat of the Night (1967)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates

A black detective from Philadelphia clashes with a small town Mississippi police chief when he is brought in to assist with a murder investigation.

Having seen a lot of the TV spinoff, I was curious to see the original movie it was based off. While it no doubt had a lot more impact when it was released, it remains a powerful film. The racial elements can be a bit heavy-handed, but I perhaps underestimate just how bad things used to be. (After all, they filmed the movie in Illinois because they didn't dare attempt an on-location shoot save for a brief spell in Tennessee that had to be cut short.) Some balance is brought in thanks to the rounded characterization of Chief Gillespie. Rod Steiger deserves credit for the nuanced portrayal. Of course Sidney Poitier is quite good as Detective Tibbs. It's hard for the modern viewer to appreciate just how revolutionary he as an actor and the character he portrays was. As far as the case itself, it's good enough, but the main feature is the Tibbs-Gillespie dynamic. It's a very different animal from the TV series, so if that's what you're familiar with, you'll find this quite a bit harsher. Don't let that deter you from watching it, though.

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