Monday, October 28, 2013
In The Heat of The Night
In the Heat of the Night came out in 1967 and won the Oscar for best picture. It's hard to believe that this film competed against other classics Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde,The Graduate (and oh yeah, Dr. Doolittle).
I've seen the clip "They call me Mr. Tibbs." hundred's of times and it was great to see it in context. In fact, this film has a really great rhythm about it that makes it very easy to watch. Many film editors could benefit by putting a semi-involved multi-character story together in this less than two-hour format.
The story has a nice complexity, with mild grittiness, but more than anything else while watching it I can't imagine what it would be like to have watched this film in 1967 in the heart of the civil rights movement. The feelings and emotions one might have watching this film in a "live context," had to be so much stronger and moving. Certainly certain parts of the film made different people uncomfortable at different points. Whether it's a intimidating fight scene, the scene with the wealthy man (Larry Gates as Endicott) slaps Virgin Tibbs (Sidney Poitier).
The film is obviously a message-oriented film about a nations racial divide, but I think what sticks out to me in a modern viewing is the new stories we hear about exonerated death row inmates and overturned convictions. In the course of this film many people are accused or potentially charged of one single-crime in Sparta, Mississippi. The film shows a dedicated Mr. Tibbs and a police captain who's quick to arrest but also quick to change the charge (Rob Steiger in his Academy Award winning roles as Gillespie).
I think police procedural films typically make better TV than films because it's hard to make the film version of something we see all the time on TV seem "special." But this is special, because there is true character arch. A larger arch in Rob Steiger's Gillespie, but a similar arch also is in the character of Virgil Tibbs as well. The film is complex, challenging (more so in the past than in the present), and has a unique feel (I think of the smacking gum of Gillespie, the opening shot of the fly on the dirty calendar, the unique use of music, or some unique minor character twist).
Norman Jewison's direction here is fantastic, and I certainly have no complaint even in the midst of the other great films that this film was the Oscar winner. I can't quite figure out how Poitier got left out of the best actor race, but those things sometimes only make sense in the time of the competition and are hard to understand out of the context of the time. In The Heat of The Night is a win in my book, particularly it's tightly-written story, brave direction, and great performances.
I'm really glad I watched this film - motivated by the recommendation of friend via twitter @jdreed after my post What I Haven't Seen On the IMDb top 250 Film List, incidentally at the time of posting the film was ranked 250 and is currently no longer in the top 250 film list just a week or so later.