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In The Heat Of The Night

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: In The Heat Of The Night

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger
Director: Norman Jewison
Rated: NR
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: August 1967
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Classic

*Also starring: Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert, Scott Wilson, Larry Gates, Quentin Dean, James Patterson, Anthony James

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 bigotry.

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

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