heatofthenight

In the Heat of the Night is considered one of, if not the defining film of Sidney Poitier’s career.  It spawned an equally popular TV show, and is often earmarked as a ‘defining’ film of the 60s.  On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Well, the story of the film revolves around a black detective from the North coming into the heart of the racist South to solve a murder.  And it stars the one of the original black movie stars, Sidney Poitier.  Any questions?

Legacy:  I’ve already made reference to the TV show.  Sidney’s co-star was Rod Steiger, a well respected Hollywood vet in his own right (On the Waterfront is the first film that pops into my head).  Oh, and you may be familiar with this line: “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

Craft:  A solid, ‘important’ film by the standards of the time it was made in.  From a technical point of view, it’s still very watchable.  But in terms of addressing the racial issues, very dated.  It’s one of those movies that’s very interesting to watch when you realize there’s an African-American in the White House now.  There’s a very famous scene where a white man slaps Sidney, and Sidney slaps him right back.  At the time it was shocking, now…not so much.  The look on the poor butler’s face still cracks me up; there was a damn porch monkey in the front yard!  No I’m not joking, go back and watch it.  All that said, I’m sure there’s more than enough white people who still think like the characters in the movie; I’m not naive or cynical.  I grew up driving past rows of Confederate flags to get to my grandfather’s house.  OK, I’m getting way off topic, back to the ‘movie’…

Crossover: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Norman Jewison), Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay.  You add in the ‘Sidney Poitier’ factor, the score by Quincy Jones;  they don’t get much more crossover than this.

Apollo:  Now it seems pretty tame, but put it back in its historical context: 1967.  JFK and Malcolm had been dead for a few years, but RFK and Dr. King were right around the corner.  And you have this major Hollywood film where an ‘uppity Negro’ is talking back and fighting back any white person who challenges him.  In that context, I don’t even know what would be the equivalent today of doing a film like this.  With all due respect to all the other minority groups in America, the story of black people in this country carries the deepest (ongoing) connection.

Back later this month for #19…

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