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In the Heat of the Night film image

In the Heat of the Night

Black History Month: Icons

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Sidney Poitier was the most important Black screen actor of the twentieth century, but if he had only made this one film it would have been enough. His performance as Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs, who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation in Sparta, Mississippi, is a master class in authority, intelligence, and self-restraint… but even more remarkable for the brief flash of indignant rage which boils over once or twice, including an indelible moment when he returns the slap of a rich white man. This isn’t just a model Negro, this is a man, susceptible to anger and to arrogance. (So too, Rod Steiger’s local sheriff, who is so much more than the sum of his racist upbringing.) By this point, Poitier had been a leading man for a decade, and he had notched up a landmark Academy Award. This movie – a smart, probing crime thriller directed by Canadian Norman Jewison – would help make him the #1 box office star in America in 1968, according to film exhibitors.

The film was fashioned to reflect the tensions and turmoil of the Civil Rights era, but it more than holds up today. Quincy Jones contributes a fine score (with Ray Charles lending vocals to the title track). Working in colour for the first time, DP Haskell Wexler creates a hot neo-noir atmosphere that’s evocative and exact (watch for the close ups of black hands on white skin). Hal Ashby won an Academy Award for his editing. But it’s the Poitier / Steiger duel which is so magnetic. Writing about it later, Poitier said watching Steiger do his thing helped to teach him, after 15 years in the business, “What screen acting could be.”

Director

Norman Jewison

Cast

Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant

Credits
Country of Origin

USA

Year

1967

Language

English

Awards

Winner: 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Steiger)

19+
110 min

Book Tickets

Sunday February 05

7:30 pm
VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre
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Credits

Producer

Walter Mirisch

Screenwriter

Stirling Silliphant

Cinematography

Haskell Wexler

Editor

Hal Ashby

Original Music

Quincy Jones

Art Director

Paul Groesse

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