In the Heat of the Night (film)
In the Heat of the Night is a 1967 American mystery drama film directed by Norman Jewison. It is based on John Ball's 1965 novel of the same name and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and was produced by Walter Mirisch. The screenplay was written by Stirling Silliphant.
The quote "They call me Mister Tibbs!" was listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Wealthy industrialist Phillip Colbert moves to Sparta, Mississippi, to build a factory there. Late one night, police officer Sam Wood discovers Colbert's murdered body lying in the street. Wood finds Virgil Tibbs, a black man with a fat wallet, at the train station and arrests him. Police chief Gillespie accuses him of murder and robbery but soon learns Tibbs is a top homicide inspector from Philadelphia. Tibbs wants to leave town on the next train, but his boss suggests he stay in Sparta to help with the murder investigation. Though Gillespie, like many of Sparta's white residents, is racist, he and Tibbs reluctantly agree to work together.
A doctor estimates that Colbert had been dead for a few hours when his body was found. Tibbs examines the body and concludes the murder happened earlier than the doctor thought, the killer was right-handed, and the victim had been killed elsewhere and moved to where Wood found his body.
Gillespie arrests another suspect, Harvey Oberst, who protests his innocence. The police plan to beat him to extract a confession, but Tibbs reveals Oberst is left-handed and has witnesses to confirm his alibi. Colbert's widow is frustrated by the ineptitude of the local police but impressed by Tibbs. She threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, so the town's leading citizens are forced to comply with her demand.
Tibbs initially suspects the murderer is plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the town's most powerful citizens, who publicly opposed Colbert's new factory. When Tibbs interrogates him, Endicott slaps him in the face. Tibbs slaps him back, so Endicott sends a gang of thugs after him. Gillespie rescues him and tells him to leave town for his own safety, but Tibbs is convinced he can solve the case.
Tibbs asks Wood to re-trace his patrol car route during the night of the murder; Gillespie joins them. After questioning why Wood partially detours from his patrol route, Tibbs finds Wood enjoys passing by Delores' house, with its bright lights and unobscured windows, to look at the 16-year-old's naked body. Gillespie discovers that Wood made a sizable deposit to his bank account the day after the murder. He arrests Wood, despite Tibbs's protests that he is not the murderer. Tibbs tells Gillespie that the murder was committed at the site of the planned factory, which clears Wood because he could not have driven both his and Colbert's cars back into town.
Purdy, a hostile local, brings his sister Delores to the police station and files statutory rape charges against Wood for getting her pregnant. Tibbs insists on being present while Delores is questioned. Purdy, offended that a black man is present during his sister's interrogation, gathers a mob to attack Tibbs.
Tibbs pressures a backstreet abortionist to reveal that she is about to perform an abortion on Delores. When she arrives and sees Tibbs, Delores runs away. Tibbs follows her and confronts her armed boyfriend, Ralph, a cook at a local roadside diner. Purdy's mob also arrives and holds Tibbs at gunpoint.
Tibbs tells Purdy to check Delores' purse for the money Ralph gave her for an abortion, which he got from killing and robbing Colbert. Purdy realizes Tibbs is right when he examines the purse. After Purdy confronts him for getting his sister pregnant, Ralph shoots Purdy dead. Tibbs grabs Ralph's gun as Gillespie arrives on the scene. Ralph is arrested and confesses to Colbert's murder. After hitchhiking a ride with Colbert and asking him for a job, Ralph attacked him at the construction site of the new factory. Ralph only meant to rob Colbert but unintentionally killed him.
Tibbs boards a train bound for Philadelphia, as Gillespie, having carried his suitcase, respectfully bids him farewell.
Jewison, Poitier, and Steiger worked together and got along well during the filming, but Jewison had problems with the Southern authorities, and Poitier had reservations about coming south of the Mason–Dixon line for filming. However, despite their reservations, Jewison decided to film part of the film in Dyersburg and Union City, Tennessee anyway, while the rest was filmed in Sparta, Chester (Harvey Oberst chase scene), and Freeburg (Compton's diner), Illinois.
The scene of Tibbs slapping Endicott is not present in the novel. According to Poitier, the scene was almost not in the movie. In the textbook , Poitier states: "I said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll make this movie for you if you give me your absolute guarantee when he slaps me I slap him right back and you guarantee that it will play in every version of this movie.' I try not to do things that are against nature." Poitier's version of the story is contradicted by Mark Harris in his book, Pictures at a Revolution. Harris states that copies of the original draft of the screenplay that he obtained clearly contain the scene as filmed, which has been confirmed by both Jewison and Silliphant. Nevertheless, Poitier is correct that Tibbs slapping Endicott was not originally envisioned. After Endicott’s slap, Silliphant’s initial step-outline reads: “Tibbs has all he can do to restrain himself. The butler drops his head, starts to pray. ‘For him, Uncle Tom’, Tibbs says furiously, ‘not for me!’” Tibbs’ counter slap first appears in Silliphant’s revised step-outline.Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA 1850-2009 (Access to History)
Tibbs urging the butler to pray for Endicott was part of Silliphant's adaptation of In the Heat of the Night as subversive Christian allegory, featuring Tibbs as messianic outsider who confronts the racist establishment of Sparta.
The film is also important for being the first major Hollywood film in color that was lit with proper consideration for a black person. Haskell Wexler recognized that standard strong lighting used in filming tended to produce too much glare on dark complexions and rendered the features indistinct. Accordingly, Wexler adjusted the lighting to feature Poitier with better photographic results.
The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, and the soundtrack album was released on the United Artists label in 1967. The title song performed by Ray Charles, composed by Quincy Jones, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman was released as a single by ABC Records and reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #21 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.
AllMusic's Steven McDonald said the soundtrack had "a tone of righteous fury woven throughout" and that "the intent behind In the Heat of the Night was to get a Southern, blues-inflected atmosphere to support the angry, anti-racist approach of the picture ... although the cues from In the Heat of the Night show their age". The Vinyl Factory said "this soundtrack to a film about racism in the South has a cool, decidedly Southern-fried sound with funk-bottomed bluesy touches, like on the strutting 'Cotton Curtain', the down 'n' dirty 'Whipping Boy' or the fat 'n' sassy 'Chief's Drive to Mayor'".
In contrast to films like The Chase and Hurry Sundown, which offered confused visions of the South, In the Heat of the Night depicted a tough, edgy vision of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders more than itself, a theme reflecting the uncertain mood of the time, just as the civil rights movement attempted to take hold. Canadian director Jewison wanted to tell an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together in spite of difficulties. Jewison said that this film proved a conviction he had held for a long time: "It's you against the world. It's like going to war. Everybody is trying to tell you something different and they are always putting obstacles in your way."
A particularly famous line in the film comes immediately after Gillespie mocks the name "Virgil":
Gillespie: "That's a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia! What do they call you up there?"
(An annoyed) Tibbs: "They call me Mister Tibbs!"
Another iconic scene that surprised and perhaps shocked audiences at the time occurs when Tibbs is slapped by Endicott. Tibbs responds by immediately slapping him back. In a San Francisco pre-screening, Jewison was concerned when the young audience was laughing at the film as if it were a comedy. The audience's stunned reaction to the slapping scene convinced Jewison that the film was effective as drama. That scene helped make the film so popular for audiences, finally seeing the top black film actor physically strike back against bigotry, that the film earned the nickname, Super-spade Versus the Rednecks. During the film's initial run, Steiger and Poitier occasionally went to the Capitol Theatre in New York to amuse themselves seeing how many black and white audience members there were, which could be immediately ascertained by listening to the former cheering Tibbs's retaliatory slap and the latter whispering "Oh!" in astonishment.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised Jewison for crafting "a film that has the look and sound of actuality and the pounding pulse of truth." He further praised Steiger and Poitier for "each giving physical authority and personal depth" to their performances. Life magazine said it was "an altogether excellent film that is quite possibly the best we have had from the U.S. this year". John Mahoney of The Hollywood Reporter deemed the film to be "a gripping and suspenseful murder mystery that effects a feeling of greater importance by its veneer of social significance and the illusion of depth in its use of racial color." Time magazine applauded the film's theme of racial unity that was "immeasurably helped by performances from Steiger and Poitier that break brilliantly with black-white stereotype." Roger Ebert gave In the Heat of the Night a positive review, praising Steiger's performance although he noted "the story itself was slightly too pat". He would later place it at number ten on his top ten list of 1967 films. Arthur D. Murphy of Variety felt that the excellent Poitier and outstanding Steiger performances overcame noteworthy flaws, including an uneven script. Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker thought it had "a spurious air of concern about the afflictions of the real America at the moment" and that it is "essentially a primitive rah-rah story about an underdog's triumph over a bully".
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 51 reviews, with an average rating of 8.27/10. Its consensus states, "Tense, funny, and thought-provoking all at once, and lifted by strong performances from Sydney [sic] Poitier and Rod Steiger, director Norman Jewison's look at murder and racism in small-town America continues to resonate today." Metacritic assigned a score of 75 based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film opened at the Capitol Theatre and at the 86th Street East theatre in New York City on Wednesday, August 2, 1967, grossing $108,107 in its first five days. It opened in Miami Beach, Florida and in Toronto on Friday, August 4 and grossed $20,974 for the weekend which, together with the New York grosses, combined to give a weekend gross of $95,806. It was released soon after race riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit.
The Academy Film Archive preserved In the Heat of the Night in 1997. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The film was followed by two sequels, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971) starring Poitier but both films failed at the box office. It was also the basis of a 1988 television series adaptation of the same name.