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IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Reviewed September 29th, 2001 by David Nusair

 

Rod Steiger stars as the newly appointed Sherriff of a small Southern town, while Sidney Poitier stars as a just-passing-through FBI agent. Conflict ensues when one of Steiger's deputies arrests Poitier at the train station, on suspicion of murder. Poitier is brought to the station and Steiger is convinced that Poitier is guilty, until he discovers his identity. Much apologizing ensues and Poitier eventually winds up staying on to solve the murder.

In the Heat of the Night must have either been written by a very pro-black white guy or an angry black dude. All the white people are portrayed as ignorant white trash or just idiots. Even the star of the movie, Steiger, falls into one of those categories (he's an idiot). Every time someone is arrested for the murder, Steiger instantly believes that THIS finally is the man responsible for the murder. He does this no less than three (!) times. And each time, Poitier has to sit down with Steiger and rationally explain to him that no, this isn't the killer either. It's actually pretty funny.

I'm pretty sure that the only non-moronic white person is Lee Grant, the wife of the dead guy. She wants justice and of course insists that Poitier stays on the case (wouldn't you, if Steiger was the most competent of the police staff?). But every other character is portrayed as a redneck and usually as a dimwit. Steiger isn't exactly a dimwit, but he also has no restraint, which results in the numerous false arrests.

The movie does work, though, because it captured that small town feel quite well, and the characters were mostly memorable. And Poitier is really good here. Besides a few man's and you dig's, he's very articulate and way smarter than anyone else. Steiger is pretty good, but this character isn't much. You can see he's a good guy, but why he's portrayed as such an idiot is beyond me. Perhaps if both Poitier and Steiger had been on the ball, then no conflict would have ensued.

Despite a few '60s era flashy touches (slow zooms abound), this is a solid little picture. One shot of Steiger driving in his car was particularly cool (you just see Steiger from the side as he's about to apprehend one of his many wrong suspects).

The resolution is a little convenient (what if the gang had approached Poitier ten minutes earlier?) and the pace is...uh...deliberately paced (putting it kindly), but In the Heat of the Night is definitely worth checking out, if only for Poitier's stellar performance.

Audio: In the Heat of the Night is presented with a dolby surround 2.0 soundtrack and its solid. Obviously, this movie was made well before the advent of surround sound and this track reflects that. The soundtrack remains in the front speakers and comes through loud and clear (and not muffled, as you might have feared).

Video: This anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is quite good, considering the age of the film. There are a few film-related artifacts, but otherwise, this is a decent transfer. Theres some grain, which I would assume is related to the age of the film, but all things considered, MGM has done a fine job.

Extras: Aside from a really bad quality trailer (its almost impossible to make anything out), the only other extra is a commentary track with director Norman Jewison, stars Steiger and Grant, and legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler. This is a track based mostly on reminiscing, but its very enjoyable nonetheless. Just hearing these legends talk about such an infamous movie is incredibly fascinating. There are several moments of silence, but on the whole, this is certainly worth checking out if only for this track.

Conclusion: In the Heat of the Night may not be the cinematic masterpiece its often made out to be, but it is very entertaining and probably an accurate snapshot of its time.

 

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