In The Heat Of The Night (Blu-ray Review)

In-The-Heat-Of-The-Night THUMB“They call me Mister Tibbs” is one of the most famous lines in cinema history.  It comes from the mouth of Sidney Poitier in the 1967 Best Picture winner In The Heat Of The Night (For the remainder of this review known as simply Heat).  A film that was an important moment not just for filmmaking, but a an important as an advocate of racial equality.  While making a big splash at the Academy Awards, the film also found success in the years after as it became a franchise.  Heat ended up serving as the first piece of a Virgil Tibbs trilogy that included the follow ups They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).  Sidney Poitier reprised his role for both films.  It then became a television series of the same name that ran for 8 seasons from 1988-1995 over two networks (NBC ’88-’92, CBS ’92-’95).  In this era of being obsessed with franchises, I’m surprised we haven’t seen the reboot of Virgil Tibbs.

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This! Is! SPARTA!…Mississippi.  One night in this small southern town a man is found bludgeoned in the middle of an alley by a police officer.  A black man waiting for a train is taken into custody as the prime suspect because…well…he’s black and this is a town full of bigoted racists to put it bluntly.  The man is actually Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs.  Through a series of difficult communication with the town’s police chief, Tibbs ends up staying in town at request of his captain and the widow of the murder victim to solve the case.  Working together with chief Bill Gillespie they learn a lot about tolerating each other, and Gillespie is slowly learning the errors of his ways while Tibbs tries to overcome the extreme prejudice present in Sparta.

Norman Jewison directs what was likely the most important film of 1967.  It wasn’t the biggest, the phenomenon or the little film that could, it was the one with the big strong important message.  The films it beat out for best picture in 1967 was an impressive roster.  Heat beat out powerhouses Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner that year.  And you can see that its telling as we still talk about those films and their own impact to this day.

Heat also garnered Rod Steiger a Best Actor award as Chief Gillespie.  Steiger takes what could have easily been a complete one note “dumb hick racist cop” and fully realized the character and humanized him.  He gets on your nerves at times throughout, but that’s because Steiger is so good at the role.  Steiger’s performance allows you to actually understand a character you actually detest, understand him as a human and enjoy watching him take a personal journey toward becoming a better person.  Poitier is his normal great self, but Steiger’s role is the meatier one and a role that could have been throwaway and not very important had a subpar performer taken it.  Poitier is one calm, cool badass here and really gets to sort of test his chops in a sort of light action hero role.  He and Steiger are a lot of fun to watch but heads together and you’re always ready to applaud Tibbs when outsmarts Gillespie.

Behind the scenes, Heat had some well known geniuses working as well.  The legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler was the man behind the lens on this one.  He really delivers a good solid, hot weathered feel for the town of Sparta.  But, most notably was Quincy Jones who brought one of the first jazz scores of a film to breathe life and energy into this southern tale.  Jones also collaborated with Ray Charles on the title song of the film.

Looking back at In The Heat Of The Night, putting the main focus of racial equality aside, I noticed how much this film felt kind of like the template for movies that would be the A picture hits of the 1990s.  Having a weird setting, characters with challenges, and a murder or murders to solve.  Its kind of light, but the core mystery feels like the film that kind of generated that type of movie.  In addition, I also see the argument that this film could be the genesis of the “buddy cop” movie that was prominent in the 1980s.  Whether it is that for those things, it just goes to show that this film’s importance runs in many different directions.

I know people know the quote, but do they still remember or recall In The Heat Of The Night?  Its always been a notable film for me in my personal film studies and one I think people should watch if they’re learning about film history.  Not only is it one that it a benchmark in the history of film, but its also a solid, thrilling, engaging murder mystery as well.

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MGM brings this Oscar classic home with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding in its original 1:85:1 frame.  This is the best the film has ever looked.  It’s got a nice layer of grain and features plenty of detail.  The image is also pretty sharp one too.  A nice example of that is a scene where Tibbs is holding a fern root close to the camera and it’s really awesome to watch it slowly come into focus.  Some knocks on the picture is that it sometimes has a brief moment or two where the colors don’t stay consistent and flicker a bit.  Also the colors aren’t very bold here and are rather flat and cold.  There are a few examples of some streaks in the print, but overall this is a good picture.  There are many many instances of HD brilliance here, its just not overall consistent.  Some may have complaints about the picture, but this is as good as it’s gonna get.  Film stocks of this era just kinda sorta look like this.  It’s how it is and there’s really no changing it.

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The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is one of those converted from the original mono source tracks.  It’s got its vocals clear and front and center.  Not a lot of action occurs in the rear speakers.  This isn’t a big action movie, but during a car chase and some fights, the sound effects are loud and effective. The star of this track is the Quincy Jones score and Ray Charles vocals which deliver incredibly and are quite fun.  It’s a solid track that’s not going to blow you out of the water, but its one that is going to do the trick and be a nice uptick from what was previously available.

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There is no main menu on the disc, just the pop up one.  So you’ll have to access the bonus content during the feature.  The content provided is all ported over from the 2008 DVD release of the film

Commentary With Norman Jewison, Lee Grant, Rod Steiger & Haskell Wexler – This is the same commentary from the 2001 and 2008 DVD releases of the film.  It isn’t your typical commentary, its 4 separate interviews intercut throughout the feature.

Turning Up The Heat: Movie-Making In The 60s (HD, 21:10) – Crew and some talking heads (such as director John Singleton) discuss the getting the film off the ground, America at the time, shooting the film and the impact In The Heat Of The Night had on the film industry and the world.

The Slap Heard Around The World (HD, 7:25) – Those same personalities from the previous featurette discuss the scene in which Tibbs retaliates with his backhand on the character of Endicott, a big moment in cinema history.

Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (HD, 13:02) – A little brief history on how Quincy Jones got his start in Hollywood and his work on the film.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:48)

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This is a well deserved Best Picture winner.  In The Heat Of The Night has a solid presentation and features some good, useful and informative extras.  There’s really not much more needed to recommend the film.  But there is.  The film is currently selling on Amazon for a little more than $11.  So, great film, important film, Best Picture winner, good presentation, good extras and super low price.  I’d say that’ll do the trick.  Go ahead and click the link below to get your copy now!



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

2 Responses to “In The Heat Of The Night (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Well said. Great movie.

  2. Brian White

    Yeah and I got to say Brandon, you did the movie justice with this great beefy review. Good job! The whole pop up menu thing to access the extras during the feature is a bit odd though for a newer release IMO.