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Cue music – ‘In the Heat of the Night’, sung by legend Ray Charles. Lazy cops drive around the streets in the middle of a hot night. Murder. More cops. The Chief. An African-American man sits at a darkened train station. He is nabbed. Cue main storyline.
The town of Sparta Mississippi is in a flap. An important businessman has been killed on their streets and his wife wants answers. African-American traveller, Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) , is initially suspected of the murder because he was loitering in a dark place. To the police Chief Gillespie’s (Steiger) horror, Tibbs is a homicide specialist from up-north, a fellow cop. All charges are dropped and Tibbs joins in the hunt for the murderer.
Suspects are investigated one-by-one. Just when you think they’ve got the real killer, BAM goes the door and another opens. Tibbs faces discrimination and danger at every turn. He is nearly run out of town when he decides, no, he’s going to solve this crime if it kills him. Hooray. Tibbs and Gillespie become close, both are loners in a hateful world.
This is a great film. The music is soulful and very sixties. It is not too different from the thrillers we see these days but for its time it was graphic and confronting. Racism is at the heart of this movie. Poitier is electric. His pain is raw and palatable. He is such a noble performer. Similarly Steiger gives a convincing performance of the conflicted Police Chief. His constant chewing of gum, however, was a little on the annoying side but he still rocked.
It’s a slow film but it works with the hot and sweaty setting. Don’t expect an action-packed thriller but sit back and enjoy the vibe, the story and the characters.
In the Heat of the Night Trivia: