Racism was omnipresent at the Academy Awards in 1967 with In the Heat of the Night and Guess who’s coming to dinner winning several awards. In the Heat of the Night was also the Academy’s choice for the Best Picture, beating out such classics as The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde. It tells the story of two cops, one black, one racist, who must work together in a small, Southern town to find the murderer of an important, wealthy business man.
In the Heat of the Night is a movie that seems to combine two stories in one – one about racism and one about a murder. Both stories are supposed to be intertwined but they actually vary in their quality. In fact, the movie excels in the scenes that hint at the open or hidden racism in the town while the search for the murderer always feels like a last-minute attempt to spice things up. The movie wants to be a traditional ‘Whodunit?` but it gives no time to a clear presentation of the case, to suspects or motives and because of that the end feels rushed and forced into the storyline. During the second half of the movie, when the attentions shifts a little more over to the question of possible suspects, the movie loses a lot of its energy and fascination. Apart from Lee Grant who gives a very moving and memorable performance as the widow of the murdered man, the whole supporting cast from In the Heat of the Night also brings the movie down. I am willing to believe that stereotypical people like them truly exist but it’s the task of a movie to present a more balanced picture. All the cops from the police station make Officer Wiggum and his team from The Simpsons (I can’t believe I am mentioning The Simpsons for the second time in this ranking now) look like true professionals while the various suspects are incredibly over-the-top. In the Heat of the Night wants to be a movie about a murder case and the role of racism but ends up as movie about the role of racism disturbed by an unsatisfying murder case.
Right from the beginning, the use of music and cinematography seems to indicate something very modern but the feeling of the ‘60s’ that dominates the film gives it a rather dated tone from today’s point-of-view. Yes, In the Heat of the Night has many flaws but at the same time it managing to be an incredibly powerful (who can forget the scene when Poitier slaps the suspect?) and gripping experience.