Review by Brian Koller|
3 stars out of 4
"In the Heat of the Night" is a detective story
that takes place in rural Mississippi. A wealthy
businessman has been killed. An odd couple is
on the case: a black detective visiting from
Philadelphia (Sidney Poitier) and the local
redneck sheriff (Rod Steiger). Poitier must
overcome the mass stupidity and racism of the
podunk town to find the murderer.
"In the Heat of the Night" won the Academy Award
for Best Picture. White guilt over having denied
black actors decent roles for the previous half
century may have played a role. It was considered
a seminal film upon release for its condemnation of
Ironically, the film is in itself bigoted: it
supports the common prejudice that rural white
Southerners are ignorant, violent and racist no-accounts.
Even the Mayor ("Patty Duke Show" dad William Schallert)
believes that a black man should be shot if he slaps
a white man, while the sheriff denies black men
their names, calling them "boy". The townsfolk
dress as if they shop for clothes at Goodwill.
No doubt racism is rampant, in the South as well as
the North, in the 1960s as well as now. But the film
goes to far in making its point, losing credibility
in its shrillness. Poitier's use of slang
(e.g. "Can you dig it?") also dates the film.
To be fair, the story never drags, and the title song
(performed by Ray Charles) is outstanding.
Steiger won Best Actor for his performance. His
character gradually gains respect for Poitier,
and by film's end they have nearly become friends.
"In the Heat of the Night" spawned two sequels
starring Poitier, and a long-running television series.
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller