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In The Heat Of The Night

In The Heat Of The Night  

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  1. 1. Does "In The Heat Of The Night" belong in the AFI Top 100?

    • Yes
      8
    • No
      2

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  • Poll closed on 01/04/19 at 08:00 AM

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Amy & Paul take a trip down South for 1967's racially charged police thriller "In The Heat Of The Night!" They celebrate the excellent soundtrack, scrutinize how well the film holds up as a procedural, and take a close look at Sidney Poitier's incredible road to Hollywood. Plus: Two interviews this week, with Pod Save The People's DeRay Mckesson on the value of art as activism, and Lee Grant, who plays Mrs. Colbert, reflecting on her trailblazing career as an actor and director.

For next week's episode on "The Searchers," can you search your heart for a New Years resolution, and tell it to us in your best John Wayne voice? Just call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

Edited by DanEngler

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I had never seen this movie before, and I loved it.  It was very satisfying, like slapping an old racist.

I even liked it as a procedural.  There's a few styles of procedurals - and this is the sort of old-fashioned version, in how the viewer doesn't know what it is going on and so you have to just take the evidence as the detectives discover them.  It can feel random or convenient.  More modern versions either let the viewer puzzle it out via clues, or just flat-up show you the crime first, so you're ahead of the detectives (cat & mouse style).  I don't really have a preference myself, and when the focus is pretty much purely on the detective the old version is more than fine.

 

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I could be wrong, but I think The Lion King makes a reference to this film when Pumba says, “They call me Mr. Pig!!!”

It was a line I always though must be a reference to something, but I could never figure out what it was. Can anyone confirm or deny?

 

 

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47 minutes ago, dafteskimo said:

I could be wrong, but I think The Lion King makes a reference to this film when Pumba says, “They call me Mr. Pig!!!”

It was a line I always though must be a reference to something, but I could never figure out what it was. Can anyone confirm or deny?

 

 

I think there's no question this is a reference to Mr. Tibbs.

Couldn't find any Simpsons references either. Disappointing!

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46 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I think there's no question this is a reference to Mr. Tibbs.

Couldn't find any Simpsons references either. Disappointing!

Best I can come up with is Rod Steiger was a guest star in one episode.

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My Mom grew up in Sparta, Illinois, where this film was made (to substitute for Sparta, Mississippi).  It was an hour south of St. Louis, but still on the north side of the Mason-Dixon line.  When this movie came on TV in the late 60's/early 70's, we were living in St. Paul.  Mom would have us watch the movie and show us the racist things that we didn't see growing up in Minnesota.  Some were blatant and some were more subtle.  You brushed on one of the more subtle items at the end of the movie, where Rod Steiger carries Sidney Poiter's suitcase to the train.  This was a big deal to my Mom.  At that time in the South, she told us, it would have been VERY unusual for a white man to carry a black man's bag.  There are little things like this in the movie that we don't really get the impact of now that audiences in the late 60's would have picked up on.  

Good podcast - keep them coming.

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I guess I'm the only "no" vote here (not my usual position!), so I'll just say that I agree with Amy -- it's a movie with some great lead performances and is an easy enough watch, but the movie doesn't feel "timeless" to me. It feels like something that is absolutely a product of its time and is mostly only interesting as a snapshot of that time. Some of the issues they discussed about Jewison's direction are (IMO) things that tend to show up throughout his career, especially in "social problem" movies like this: being generally over-emphatic with the emotional beats and concentrating so much on the message of the movie that he loses the function of the plot a little bit. The structure of the movie is a police procedural and murder mystery, but they clearly want the film  to be "about" racism . . . yet the resolution of the mystery has nothing to do with racism. These little things bugged me, though Poitier and Steiger were so good together that the movie kind of works anyway.

If I just look at the other Best Picture nominees from 1967, I'd say both Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate have held more relevance throughout the years than In the Heat of the Night. I'd be okay taking it off the list. I guess I could be convinced to keep it on because there's nothing else to showcase Poitier, who is a major figure in American film history.

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29 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I guess I'm the only "no" vote here (not my usual position!), so I'll just say that I agree with Amy -- it's a movie with some great lead performances and is an easy enough watch, but the movie doesn't feel "timeless" to me. It feels like something that is absolutely a product of its time and is mostly only interesting as a snapshot of that time. Some of the issues they discussed about Jewison's direction are (IMO) things that tend to show up throughout his career, especially in "social problem" movies like this: being generally over-emphatic with the emotional beats and concentrating so much on the message of the movie that he loses the function of the plot a little bit. The structure of the movie is a police procedural and murder mystery, but they clearly want the film  to be "about" racism . . . yet the resolution of the mystery has nothing to do with racism. These little things bugged me, though Poitier and Steiger were so good together that the movie kind of works anyway.

If I just look at the other Best Picture nominees from 1967, I'd say both Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate have held more relevance throughout the years than In the Heat of the Night. I'd be okay taking it off the list. I guess I could be convinced to keep it on because there's nothing else to showcase Poitier, who is a major figure in American film history.

It's a better police procedural that's ostensibly about racism than Zootopia.

I get your criticism and agree to an extent. But I loved this movie when I saw it. I wouldn't necessarily say it's just a product of its time since it's themes are still pretty relevant today (and aged significantly better than Poitier's other movie this year about racism Guess Who's Coming To Dinner). I don't have any more to add since I haven't seen this in well over a decade and specifics are pretty much lost.

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I would argue the opposite: this is still wildly relevant today. People still look at people of color and women in their jobs as they did Mr. Tibbs - a range of disdain to low expectations. Very little has changed.  I mean, he got arrested solely for reading while black, which still to this day happens constantly (and have triggered the Black Lives Matter movement).

What I like about the movie is what they said in the episode: it's not full of monologuing or preaching or whatnot.  I found the police case to be realistic in that regard too -- instead of showing a racially charged murder to condemn racism, the movie focuses on a regular murder and shows the racism all around that. It's in the autopsy, in the coworkers and boss, in the victim's wife, in the interrogation suspects.  If Tibbs showed up down there and solved a KKK murder case or something, that starts to push into melodrama.  Instead, it reflects reality, showing us how deeply racism is embedded in the everyday routine.

That's also why I believe it gets a balance in not just being about racism. It is about a murder case.  The comments on society just come along with that.

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2 hours ago, grudlian. said:

It's a better police procedural that's ostensibly about racism than Zootopia.

I get your criticism and agree to an extent. But I loved this movie when I saw it. I wouldn't necessarily say it's just a product of its time since it's themes are still pretty relevant today (and aged significantly better than Poitier's other movie this year about racism Guess Who's Coming To Dinner). I don't have any more to add since I haven't seen this in well over a decade and specifics are pretty much lost.

Yeah, I wouldn't put Zootopia on the list either.

This is a tricky argument, because my "of its time" argument shouldn't be confused with a "racism and/or police abuse no longer exist" argument. Of course they do. In that sense, the subject matter of the film is certainly still relevant. What seems dated to me is more in how it's presented, like "Guys, can you believe this? Look at the racism!" Most of the non-Steiger cops play almost as cartoons to me. And there's also the Tibbs character, who is forced to stand in as the perfect black guy who is good at everything, just to get the white characters to move even a little bit in his direction (though I did appreciate the detail of him originally focusing on the wrong guy). As Amy noted, that movie today is Green Book -- well-praised enough for the performances and might get some nominations, but not very likely to win Best Picture.

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8 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Yeah, I wouldn't put Zootopia on the list either.

This is a tricky argument, because my "of its time" argument shouldn't be confused with a "racism and/or police abuse no longer exist" argument. Of course they do. In that sense, the subject matter of the film is certainly still relevant. What seems dated to me is more in how it's presented, like "Guys, can you believe this? Look at the racism!" Most of the non-Steiger cops play almost as cartoons to me. And there's also the Tibbs character, who is forced to stand in as the perfect black guy who is good at everything, just to get the white characters to move even a little bit in his direction (though I did appreciate the detail of him originally focusing on the wrong guy). As Amy noted, that movie today is Green Book -- well-praised enough for the performances and might get some nominations, but not very likely to win Best Picture.

The are people now who don't make the cops in this movie look cartoonishly racist. I also think the idea that there are people of color who feel they have to be damn near perfect at all times isn't far fetched (I'm white. So, I can't speak from experience on this but I can go with what I've heard from friends).

While Green Book isn't going to win best picture, I won't be surprised at all if it's nominated for best picture. We aren't that far removed from Driving Miss Daisy winning or The Help being nominated. And let's be honest, Zootopia won best animated feature, in part, because of its "important message" despite being a poorly handled metaphor at best (plus, is Disney and they win animated feature).

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32 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

The are people now who don't make the cops in this movie look cartoonishly racist. I also think the idea that there are people of color who feel they have to be damn near perfect at all times isn't far fetched (I'm white. So, I can't speak from experience on this but I can go with what I've heard from friends).

While Green Book isn't going to win best picture, I won't be surprised at all if it's nominated for best picture. We aren't that far removed from Driving Miss Daisy winning or The Help being nominated. And let's be honest, Zootopia won best animated feature, in part, because of its "important message" despite being a poorly handled metaphor at best (plus, is Disney and they win animated feature).

Yes, this kind of movie does tend to get awards attention just for its subject matter. And when it's clumsily handled within the movie those selections tend to age poorly. I got some of that sense with In the Heat of the Night (though to be clear, I think it's better than the above cited examples).

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On 12/27/2018 at 6:35 PM, sycasey 2.0 said:

I guess I'm the only "no" vote here (not my usual position!), so I'll just say that I agree with Amy -- it's a movie with some great lead performances and is an easy enough watch, but the movie doesn't feel "timeless" to me. It feels like something that is absolutely a product of its time and is mostly only interesting as a snapshot of that time. Some of the issues they discussed about Jewison's direction are (IMO) things that tend to show up throughout his career, especially in "social problem" movies like this: being generally over-emphatic with the emotional beats and concentrating so much on the message of the movie that he loses the function of the plot a little bit. The structure of the movie is a police procedural and murder mystery, but they clearly want the film  to be "about" racism . . . yet the resolution of the mystery has nothing to do with racism. These little things bugged me, though Poitier and Steiger were so good together that the movie kind of works anyway.

If I just look at the other Best Picture nominees from 1967, I'd say both Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate have held more relevance throughout the years than In the Heat of the Night. I'd be okay taking it off the list. I guess I could be convinced to keep it on because there's nothing else to showcase Poitier, who is a major figure in American film history.

Here was my issue: According to Letterboxd, I watched this movie for the first time last year. and aside from a vague outline and the famous line, I had forgotten almost everything about it. Granted, I've seen a ton of movies since then, but still, I generally have a good memory for these types of things. If I've seen it (or read it) I can almost always give you - if not beat for beat - a pretty good description of the plot. For this, nothing. "There's a murder in a Southern town and Poitier gets roped into it after being falsely accused" is probably the best I could do. I couldn't have told you who got murdered, why, or who did it.

That's not to say that I think the movie isn't fantastic. The performances are top notch and it grabs you as you're watching it, but I don't know...how many times should I have to watch it for it to become memorable? Shouldn't the "best" movies stick with you? 

Anyway, I dropped my initial Letterboxd star rating from 5 to 4 1/2 stars. Not a lot, but it bothered me I couldn't remember anything about it. That being said, I still think it belongs on the list. I even think it deserves to be pretty high, but "low" high, if you know what I mean :) 

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Paul talked about how this was a perfect "bridge movie" for the Academy Awards, smack in the middle of The Music Man and the subversive Bonnie and Clyde.

First of all, it wasn't The Music Man, it was Dr. Doolittle (the Music Man was 5 years earlier). But Paul and Amy gave major short shrift to how epic that year's Oscars race was. You guys HAVE to read what must be one of the best books written about Hollywood: "Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood" by Mark Harris. (for what it's worth, Quentin Tarantino calls it "one of the best books I've read in my life", as quoted on Amazon) 

When I read it I didn't know which film had won for Best Picture, and it was riveting to see how the race played out, and what those five films said about Hollywood and America at the time. Looking back, 1967 was the pivotal moment when Hollywood started to shed the old-fashioned Biblical epics and movie musicals and moving toward socially relevant, auteurist fare.

So in 1967 you had two revolutionary films, still considered classics, that captured the Vietnam-era American malaise: Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate

two films starring Sidney Poitier that tackled contemporary issues of race and prejudice, albeit in different ways: In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

and a film that "old Hollywood" shoved down that Academy's throat, just because they wasted so much money on it and wanted to at least reap some critical self-acclaim even if no one paid to see it in theaters: Dr. Doolittle

From what I remember of the book - in addition to incredible stories about Stanley Kramer, Arthur Penn, Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, etc. -  was that it was wide open season for Best Picture in 1967. It could have gone to any of those films (except for Dr. Doolittle). It turned out to be a perfect triangulation between the ballsy, forward-looking The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde and - not the musical, but the more audience-friendly depiction of idyllic race relations, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? And so In the Heat of the Night won.

I don't know which AFI list this is, or how it differs from the list Unspooled is using...but here you've got 3 of the Oscar nominated movies from '67 on the Top 100 list and In the Heat of the Night, the Best Picture winner, ISN'T INCLUDED. 

https://www.afi.com/100years/movies.aspx

I don't know if Guess Who's Coming? is on Paul and Amy's list. I'm assuming The Graduate is.  But with 3 or 4 Oscar-nominated films,  1967 might be the winningest year for movies on the list, at least tied with 1939.

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3 hours ago, joshg said:

I don't know which AFI list this is, or how it differs from the list Unspooled is using...but here you've got 3 of the Oscar nominated movies from '67 on the Top 100 list and In the Heat of the Night, the Best Picture winner, ISN'T INCLUDED. 

https://www.afi.com/100years/movies.aspx

That was the original list, done in 1998. There was an updated version in 2007, which is what Paul and Amy are using.

https://www.afi.com/100years/movies10.aspx

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was dropped from the new list, and In the Heat of the Night added. So in each case there are three films from 1967.

For film years, I think 1976 is the winner. Four Best Picture nominees made the list: Taxi Driver, Rocky (the winner), Network, and All the President's Men.

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10 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

That being said, I still think it belongs on the list. I even think it deserves to be pretty high, but "low" high, if you know what I mean :)

I'll say this: if we're looking for movies that explore the African-American experience in America and how white racism and police violence figures into it . . . then Do the Right Thing should be WAY higher on the list than In the Heat of the Night.

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6 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I'll say this: if we're looking for movies that explore the African-American experience in America and how white racism and police violence figures into it . . . then Do the Right Thing should be WAY higher on the list than In the Heat of the Night.

Well that film got notoriously ignored by the Oscars in its year. Moral of the story: bringing the Academy Awards into the discussion is an exercise in frustration.

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15 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

I'll say this: if we're looking for movies that explore the African-American experience in America and how white racism and police violence figures into it . . . then Do the Right Thing should be WAY higher on the list than In the Heat of the Night.

Don't worry. Driving Miss Daisy won best picture that year. Do The Right Thing wasn't even nominated.

There isn't a better example of the Academy being out of touch than this. 

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4 hours ago, grudlian. said:

Don't worry. Driving Miss Daisy won best picture that year. Do The Right Thing wasn't even nominated.

There isn't a better example of the Academy being out of touch than this. 

Oh yes, most certainly. I am glad that DTRT was able to overcome the lack of Academy recognition to make the 2007 list anyway (and I suspect it would climb to a higher spot if they voted again).

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Paul mentions that he read an essay by Walter Mosley concerning Hogan's Heroes. Mosley says there was one black character on the show who never spoke, but the fact that he was there was important to him. I haven't read the essay, so I don't know if Paul's memory is accurate, but "Kinch" Kinchloe (as played by Ivan Dixon) had as many lines as the other secondary characters. He was in charge of communications. An interesting bit of history is that Ivan Dixon went on to a long career as one of the first and few African-American television directors in Hollywood. He also directed a couple classic Blaxploitation movies, Trouble Man, and The Spook Who Sat by the Door. 

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I'm just listening to this now, and I'm sure someone has already brought this up on Twitter or something, but I think the movie Amy and Paul are thinking about is To Sir With Love. 

ToSirWithLove-PosterArt_CR.jpg?partner=a

Which is about "social and racial issues in an inner city school." I haven't seen it since college, but I remember it being pretty good. 

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3 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I'm just listening to this now, and I'm sure someone has already brought this up on Twitter or something, but I think the movie Amy and Paul are thinking about is To Sir With Love. 

ToSirWithLove-PosterArt_CR.jpg?partner=a

Which is about "social and racial issues in an inner city school." I haven't seen it since college, but I remember it being pretty good. 

Hah, yeah forgot about this part. They are definitely merging To Sir, With Love and Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me for this made-up movie about Sidney Poitier playing a teacher with a baseball bat.

MV5BMTc5MTQwNzAwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA1

This is like the Sinbad Genie Movie Mandela Effect again.

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I'm pretty anti-list, I guess, as I feel art is so subjective that making a list of 100 best anything is a fool's errand. I'm here because I love great movies A LOT. That being said, I'd much rather THIS movie be on any Great list than Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider, two very important "new Hollywood" movies I just don't particularly care for.  I mean, I love Army of Darkness, it's one of my favorite movies, but the only way THAT movie gets a mention in this conversation is when Amy threw some shade at it when interviewing Embeth Davidtz on the Schindler's List episode, as if it was some garbage bullshit Davidtz had to do before making a "real" movie. Anyway, greatness is subjective... but Schindler's List is really great by any metric, and so is Davidtz.

Anyway, as for the "of its time vs. timeless" argument, I love art that IS of its time. Everything from German "New Objectivity" in the 1920s to Star Trek are examples of art or artistic movements that could have only originated in the very specific time and place they did, and from the artists who created them. Of course, some of that stuff still resonates and comes back in vogue, depending on the current political and social climate or whatever wave of nostalgia is in vogue. And I don't hold anything against timelessness in art either. I think something like Beauty and the Beast is timeless, while In the Heat of the Night is very 1960s, both in the way it depicts race relations and that it's a police procedural that clearly came before the flood of CSI and Law and Order shows, which I think changed the way audiences viewed all police procedurals. It's just kind of assumed now that the public knows about post-mortem examinations and how they work, while that might not have been the case in 1967. So methods of storytelling has changed, society has changed, filmmaking has changed, but we are still profoundly affected by these same issues and are still fascinated by this format of storytelling, so I think it's going to resonate. Art can tell us how far we've come, how far we still have to go, and maybe even how we've regressed. Also, I just really like this movie. And since this IS a Norman Jewison film, I feel it is entirely appropriate to say that Sidney Poitier is Ted Neeley Handsome!*

*See the Musical Mondays group in the HDTGM forums for the origin of this reference😁

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Looking back over my personal ranking (I add each film after a rewatch but before i listen to the podcast) it's clear to myself why some films are at the top, and why some are at the bottom. That middle part gets really messy, and this film found its way into the middle. Interestingly, I couldn't find any place for it except next to Bonnie and Clyde. In The Heat gets the edge, however, from my personal reaction to the movie, and it was a very emotional viewing experience. That's all I want to say about that. Without that emotional resonance, however, I doubt I would have placed the film so high. While watching it, I wondered if it could have been the True Detective of its day. Well, the first season I mean. That also speaks to how cinematic our television series are these days. 

Having no Simpsons' reference? I took to TVtropes.org which usually has a section that lists any homages, etc. There weren't any, although they do name a whole trope They Call Me Mister Tibbs.  They also had some interesting trivia that didn't come up in the podcast, although without any references cited I'm not sure how to vet the information. for example, the site claims Endicott was supposed to be a sympathetic character in the novel, but was changed for the sceenplay, and similarly in the novel Tibbs was a polite and non-confrontational character. Another tidbit was that Steiger didn't want to have to chew gum all the time, but grew to like the way it helped him act. Anyway, the TvTropes page is here https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/InTheHeatOfTheNight 

It also pointed out something I didn't notice at the time, the "Feet-first Introduction," where the audience doesn't see Tibbs fully until ten minutes into the film. I wonder if this is important thematically or just a dramatic choice by the director. 

And maybe it happened off screen, but I sure hope Tibbs called his mother. 

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