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In The Heat Of The Night – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Starting the year with a bang, The Criterion Collection has released In the Heat of the Night, one of the bigger box office hits of the 60s, along with a major award winner. The mystery drama starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is memorable for many reasons. In addition to the characters and quotable lines, the film tells a topical story involving murder, police officers, and the role a black man plays in a small town in Mississippi during the 1960s. As a result, you have a cinematic classic still relevant today, and Criterion has that film on a packed, new Blu-ray release.

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Film:

Poitier stars as Virgil Tibbs, a black homicide detective passing through a small town in Mississippi, only to be detained on suspicion of murder, solely for his skin color. Once revealed to Chief Gillespie (Steiger) that Tibbs is actually a police officer, a reluctant agreement is made for the two of them to work together to solve the case.

Not pointing any fingers, but as is the case with many classics that aren’t on the scale of Star Wars, In the Heat of the Night seems like a film modern audiences know more for the, “They called me Mr. Tibbs,” line than anything else. Similar to Deliverance, the context behind why signature scenes are important is lost for the sake of memes or parody. It’s sadly understandable, but the thing to know about Mr. Tibbs, beyond what they call him, is that he’s a true hero.

Poitier was on a role at this point in his career. He was already the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Lead Actor a few years prior, and this was one of his three films to arrive in 1967 (another being Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?). With this film, Poitier played a smooth operator, keeping a level of cool for the most part, but not afraid to talk back to those looking down on him, let alone slapping someone when they deserved it (one of the film’s best and most memorable scenes). To add to that, this isn’t even the last time we saw Virgil Tibbs. Poitier would go on to star in two sequels to this film, which I’m pretty sure made him the first mainstream black actor to have his own franchise.

In addition to Poitier, you also have Steiger, doing strong enough work to earn him the Oscar for Best Actor that year. As this film functions as a proto-version of the mismatched buddy cop movie, it’s not so much about hitting the standard points in this story as it is watching two strong characters interacting and begrudgingly coming to respect one another. This isn’t the kind of film that sets out to solve racism, but it certainly has layers, which are embodied by what Steiger can do with his role.

There’s also a lot to admire in the filmmaking on display. Based on the novel by John Ball, the mystery story told is enjoyable enough to watch unfold, even if there’s nothing new to it, but the film isn’t really about the whodunit aspect. There’s more focus on the town and how Poitier exists to upset the balance, while also working to solve a crime. Director Norman Jewison capitalizes off of this by assembling a strong cast around the two stars, which includes Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Larry Gates, James Patterson, and a young Scott Wilson, among others (also look out for a young Harry Dean Stanton in an uncredited role).

The score by Quincy Jones was indeed notable as well, with a title song performed by Ray Charles. It adds to the whole vibe of the film, which was basically a way of making a righteous feature that emphasized the anti-racist approach by way of blues and funk. And what more could you ask for?

In the Heat of the Night is a terrific feature, with some great performances, and plenty going on to have it merit more than just acknowledgment of one of its famous scenes. Between the incisive social commentary and the fantastic cinematography capturing the South, this is a police procedural that continues to thrill.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Details: This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The restoration was undertaken by Park Circus and MGM, with additional restoration performed by the Criterion Collection.

Clarity/Detail: This is wonderful! Having owned the previous release, it is easy to see the substantial upgrade in quality over that one. This picture has never looked clearer at home, which goes a long way in really seeing the amount of detail found in the use of location to make the atmosphere of this movie play on the characters. Night time scenes, in particular play well, better than they have, in terms of seeing so much more thanks to this excellent new transfer.

Depth: A proper handle on character spacing goes a long way to make this film stand out, thanks to a big improvement in the level of depth that can be seen here. Dimensionality plays well for this presentation.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep, with no sign of crush. It is sometimes quite striking, given the use of color, whether its clothing or random set details, as the black levels are very much enhanced by how they match against various thing going on here.

Color Reproduction: The color reproduction for this film is basically perfect. There’s a great use of primary colors throughout, and it all feels properly balanced, helping to keep one engrossed with what’s taking place.

Flesh Tones: The actors all look great with this presentation. Between the close-ups and wider shots, there’s always a good sense of texture to observe with these characters.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original monaural soundtrack was restored from the 35mm magnetic DME track by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools and iZotope RX.

Dynamics: The Quincy Jones score sounds terrific here, with the music doing a fantastic job of underscoring so much in the way of the film’s atmosphere and other qualities concerning sound.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds clean and clear.

 

Extras:

With a mix of new and archival special features, there is plenty to admire about the supplements on this new release, as you can learn all you would want to about the history of this film and its impact. Sadly, this release drops the feature focused on the legendary slapping scene found on the previous release.

Features Include:

  • Commentary – From 2008 featuring Jewison, Lee Grant, Rod Steiger, and Cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
  • Norman Jewison (HD, 12:49) – A new video interview that has Jewison going over how he came across the novel, what to do to make the film work, and more.
  • Sidney Poitier (HD, 8:00) – An archival interview that was initially part of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers television special.
  • Lee Grant (HD, 15:00) – A new video interview where Grant discusses being blacklisted in Hollywood, in addition to her role in the film. Very interesting.
  • Aram Goudsouzian (HD, 18:00) – A new video interview with the author of Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon, who discusses Poitier’s career and how it evolved.
  • Turning Up The Heat: Movie Making in the ‘60s (HD, 21:10) – An archival featurette going over the history of the film.
  • Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (HD, 13:02) – An archival featurette examining Jones’ career and his work on the film’s soundtrack.
  • Trailer (HD)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic K. Austin Collins

 

Summary:

There’s nothing not to recommend here. In the Heat of the Night is a classic that continues to shine as effective filmmaking for a variety of reasons. The new transfer does everything to have this film look and sound better than ever. And short of a new piece regarding Rod Steiger, the extras have everything you’d want to learn about when it comes to the making of this film and what to take away from there. This is a Criterion Collection release plenty worthy of being on any collector’s shelf.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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