My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 46: In the Heat of the Night (Best Picture Ranking)

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 with a very strong and powerful central story – unfortunately surrounded by a lot of mediocrity. In the middle are the two outstanding performances by Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. Both actors play the opposite spectrum of human characters and Steiger’s loud and sometimes slightly exaggerated work contrasts wonderfully with Poitier’s understated and restrained performance. The dynamic between these two actors is the motor that keeps the movie going and turns into one of the most interesting relationships ever seen on the screen. It’s easy to see why Rod Steiger won the Oscar since he gives a very domineering performance and his character is also given the bigger arc (that scene in the living room is one of the highpoints of his career) but Sidney Poitier is the unsung hero of this piece as he provides the connection to the audience and has to create a character that is neither too perfect but also clearly superior to his surroundings. So, it’s the development of the relationship between this racist and loud cop from the South and this black, intelligent man from the North which is the main reason why In the Heat of the Night works as well as it does. From their first confrontation scenes to their last goodbye at the train station, both actors perfectly handle their material without overdoing the dislike or the sentiments that could have destroyed the realism.

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.


Louis Morgan said...

I really enjoy this film, and most of the strength of the film does come from the dynamic and the performances of Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier.

I do slightly disagree about the murder mystery, I thought it was spelled out well enough, although I won't say it was amazing.

I also did not think that many of the characters were that over the top, not that they were amazing performances, but I thought they worked.

joe burns said...

It's pretty good, but need to see it again.