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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
    • No

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

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I'm 100% in agreement with Paul and Amy on this one.  I think while it was an important film in 1967, it doesn't play to me today as a great film.  I think it's on the borderline of top 100 and ultimately doesn't deserve to be on it, and I agree that at the very least, Beverly Hills Cop worked better as a police procedural.  (Also, Foley has a reasonable explanation for why he didn't reveal he was a cop until later, since he's in LA to do police work.  If Tibbs actually wanted to make that train, he could have flashed his badge a bit sooner and likely made it on time.  But that might be a Titanic "the door was big enough for two" type of complaint, in that the badge was flashed at the right time for the plot to advance.)

And the race stuff plays completely different to me today, too.  Like Green Book, In the Heat of the Night is a film directed by a white male, off a screenplay written by a white male based on a story told by a white male.  And like Green Book, I really felt like In the Heat of the Night seems today like it was made for white people to watch and congratulate themselves on not being racist.  Now, Green Book is a bad movie (I think we can mostly agree on that), and In the Heat of the Night is nowhere near as toothless in its commentary, nor does it self-congratulate on its progressiveness as much as Green Book does, but I really resent it for pulling its punch a bit by having Tibbs momentarily obsessed with finding the most racist guy guilty, giving racist white dudes some "both sides" ammo.

Anyway, all would be forgivable if this was a great movie, but I just don't think it is.  Like Paul and Amy said, it feels like it's trying to figure out how to a great movie, but it's just not quite there.  Paul and Amy were spot-on with their analysis of the music fills as feeling like 70s TV, and of Delores' monologue as being super absurd.

But the best I can say about it is that it's not unenjoyable, and that Sidney Poitier is fucking awesome in it.

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11 hours ago, bleary said:

Like Green Book, In the Heat of the Night is a film directed by a white male, off a screenplay written by a white male based on a story told by a white male.

Right, that's what I think dates the commentary in this movie. I realize that at the time releasing a movie written and directed by people of color was virtually impossible in the American studio system, so this was the best you could get in 1967. But as I noted before: compare this to something like Do the Right Thing and the difference in approach is stark. In In the Heat of the Night, there is one black character who must stand in for all black people, surrounded by white characters who run the gamut; the movie's heart is in the right place, but it's definitely centralizing the white experience. In DTRT, there are multiple black characters coming from multiple perspectives to go along with a few white characters; to me there is a lot more to get out of this more decentralized perspective.

And then given the racial commentary we saw just this past year out of filmmakers of color: Black Panter, BlacKKKlansman, Blindspotting, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could Talk . . . well, In the Heat of the Night feels quaint by comparison. Again, not bad, but quaint.

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In the Heat of the Night (list comparisons)

AFI (2007 | 1997): 75th | NR (not ranked)

BFI Critic's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): NR (all), NR (US), 0 votes

BFI Director's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): NR , NR (US), 0 votes

IMDB (rank, rating): NR, 8.0 rating (it looks like number 250 on the list has a 8.0 rating)

Metascore: 75

TSFDT (ranking, US filtered ranking): 1622, (extrapolating, since 501 of the top 1000 are US/UK, I’m going to just say, 811)

Oscar BP status: nominated, winner.  (beating In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie & Clyde, Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)

AFI top 100 (2007): https://www.afi.com/100Years/movies10.aspx
AFI top 100 (1997): https://www.afi.com/100Years/movies.aspx
BFI links: https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b6ad31699
TSFDT: http://www.theyshootpictures.com/gf1000_films1001-2000.htm

IMDB/Metascore: https://www.imdb.com/search/title?groups=top_250&sort=user_rating,desc&start=201&ref_=adv_nxt
Oscar BP Wiki: 

Thoughts - I haven't had a chance to catch up with this one yet due to travel to family during the holidays, getting sick, and also trying to catch up on end of year movies (still in process there-of as the head cold interferred with it).... But, the most amount of love this movie seems to get is from what I've been comparing between, is the AFI, at that's number 75.  That seems like... a movie that... exists.  And is... okay?

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17 hours ago, bleary said:

Like¬†Green Book,¬†In the Heat of the Night¬†is a film directed by a white male, off¬†a screenplay written by a white male based on a story told by a white male.ÔĽŅ¬† And like¬†Green Book, I really felt like¬†In the Heat of the Night¬†seems today like it was¬†made for white people to watch and congratulate themselves on not being racist.

Given I'm the person who didn't like Schindler's List (partially, though large partially), to well, we'll just say I'm sympathetic to the cartoonish villain (which is different than just plain evil) complaint in the Mamet take (not because Mamet expressed it - I don't have a strong take on him other than, hey, he sure took a hard right turn this past decade). So, this does not bode well for me liking this film.

*: Admittedly, my take on Schindler's List is based on my multi-decade old memory of it.

However, one thing I wanted to throw out there, in terms of movies being dated (or of it's time).  Gah, I'm realizing all examples I'm thinking of are movies that I want to see, but I haven't (one I even own).

John Cassavetes (white male) made Shadows in 1959 (this is the one I own, and I think it's the only one in the Criterion John Cassavetes collection I haven't watched yet).

Shirley Clarke (white female) made The Cool World in 1963 and the experimental documentary, A Portrait of Jason in 1967 (same year as In the Heat of the Night), about Jason Holliday, a gay, black hustler.

Btw, wiki entry on The Cool World:


The Cool World is a 1963 feature film directed by Shirley Clarke about African-American life in the Royal Pythons, a youth gang in Harlem.[1] In 1994, 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 is considered by some critics to be the first film within the Blaxploitation genre.

From her wiki page:


Her next feature, The Cool World (1964), was the first movie to dramatize a story on black street gangs without relying upon Hollywood-style moralizing. Shot on location in Harlem, it was based on a novel by Warren Miller. This was the first film to be produced by Frederick Wiseman.

Without having seen these other movies, I'll just take a guess that they probably age better than In the Heat of the Night (despite coming out before it) - I guess I'll make it my new year's resolution to see those three movies and see if I'm wrong.

The Help was nominated for Best Picture, I believe.  And Green Book... exists.  I haven't seen either of these movies either, but I know people complain about their depictions of race.  But, "of its time" for In the Heat of the Night might simply be, a larger percentage of movie going audiences... this would have been progressive for them (and focus on being one of the good ones - in the case of African Americans, kind of a model minority, and in the case of whites - not a potential recruit of the KKK.  My multi-decade old memory of Look Who's Coming to Dinner had a bit that explicitly had at least the first half in a scene), where-as now, it's still of this time.  There's just a larger audience now than then who sees the problems with this simplicity of this approach - no idea what the comparative ratios are in middle america.  I'd be curious.

It makes me think of the discussion around Demy's Philadelphia, when he passed away.  I heard one conversation on a podcast where one person said, "while it might seem a little milque-toast now, it must have seemed amazingly revolutionary back in the 90s." And the gay person in the conversation responded, "well, to the gay community back in the 90s, it wasn't that great then either."  And the conversation basically got onto the topic of Demy, didn't make Philadelphia for the gay community he offended with having a trans-serial killer in his BP winning film, The Silence of the Lambs, he made it as an apology for the gay community by making a pro-gay movie that targeted the middle america that would have taken away negative stereo-types of trans-people from The Silence of the Lambs.

(disclaimer - I still have never seen Philadelphia) 

This was a topic I meant to eventually to get to in the Schindler's List conversation.  So, let's take that premise for Philadelphia.  While that makes the film relevant, would that relevancy then make the film, good?  And should it in the sense of being placed on this list?  If so, should a movie like Hotel Rwanda belong on the list as well (since it covered the Rwandan genocide, which Americans probably knew less about than the Holocaust)? Well, if you, the reader of this post were constructing the list.  I think the one unifying thing I'm feeling about the AFI list is that it's movies that are culturally iconic in the American psyche, in which case, "They Call me MISTER Tibbs" doesn't seem out of place. Hotel Rwanda would because no one remembers that movie exists.  And maybe to Philadelphia, if the poll was done close enough to when Demy died and there were a lot of retrospectives on him.  For my perspective, while the cultural climate a movie was made in does affect how I view it and how bold or retrograde its decisions are, I find myself going "no" on the movies that I don't think are great movies, while still being able to acknowledge, they might fulfill a relevant purpose (of shifting the goal posts of what is acceptable and isn't acceptable.  sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly).

And I guess if I see those three movies I mentioned before and find them much better, I would probably find the AFI list more interesting and "better" if it included such movies.  But "independent" isn't what the AFI seems to go for.


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I wish I could have got on the boards sooner with this one. Busy holidays and all.

Anyway, what struck me as very odd is for people of my generation in my part of the world growing up  (Western Canada) the novel that the film was based on was required reading in either grade 8 or 9. We read this book in English class and I remember being excited because I thought we'd get to watch the movie at the end like we did the year prior with the The Outsiders. However, our teacher was dead set against this. She felt the film detracted too much from the book and it blurred some of the lines of the books themes on racism. Now it's been a good twenty years or so I don't remember the finer details of the novel so much but I remembered enough of the general story that I felt I never had to watch the movie. So I watched it for the first time and I really enjoyed it.

I think it works great as a sheep in wolves clothing. The movie is about racism but it is also very much a police procedural that sneaks in its message instead of putting it front and center. Now this could be to the detriment of the movie but again we have to think about the context that this movie was being made it. Like Paul and Amy mentioned they had to prove that a black lead movie could make its money back just to get money to make this movie. If it was coming with a more direct message who knows if it would have ever got made. Still this movie was taking chances socially that it maybe wasn't talking artistically. That said there is nothing wrong with the movie. Every aspect of the film from acting, writing, to directing is perfectly done. It maybe not be trying to break the story telling structures or visual styles or acting methods because just making it was a challenge in itself. On top of that, it holds up today. For all that I say keep it on the list.

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Also fun fact. Some people may remember that there was an "In The Heat of the Night" television series in the late 80s/early 90s that served as a sequel to this film. However, this movie actually had two sequels. First was a film called "They Call Me Mister Tibbs!" from 1970 and then a year later a sequel to that was released called "The Organization". I had the misfortune of actually being able to find They Call Me Mister Tibbs and watching it and if you didn't like In the Heat of the Night than find this movie and watch it. It'll make you like the movie a whole lot more.

Basically Virgil Tibbs is now a San Francisco homicide detective with a wife and two kids. The movie is filmed on cheap sound stages for the most part with flat lighting. There is no sense of mystery or intrigue to the murder mystery and no hidden messages about racism to be had. I guess this is due to San Francisco being more liberal I suppose. The whole movie is pretty boring except for a scene in which Virgil Tibbs who is trying to connect with his son pours him a glass of whisky and makes him smoke a cigar because he hit his sister. He's got to teach him what it means to be a man you see. Did I mention the kid is like eight or ten?

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On 12/28/2018 at 11:47 PM, joshg said:

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.


I listened to this episode today in part because I just finished that book.  I'll try just about any movie written about making movies and I've been going through a bunch of recommended ones I can find at the library.   I'll admit to skipping the parts about The Graduate because I'm just so tired of hearing about that movie.  

I remember as a kid how big a disappointment Dr. Doolittle was, though I remember nothing about the movie.  I just remember it being on TV and me being excited because Talking Animals! and wow was it dreadful.  Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  No one should make a movie for kids that's so long.  But interesting to hear that it premiered at an old Minneapolis theater where I still attend concerts (I didn't know if had been a movie theater decades ago).

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On 12/27/2018 at 2:59 PM, D. Wheeling said:

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.  


My mom grew up in Illinois and Indiana, and lived in the South as a young adult.  She loved this movie (and Sidney Poitier) with a fiery passion.  She raised me in Minneapolis, which has and had its own challenges with different sorts of discrimination, but she frequently schooled me on social issues using her past experiences as examples and using movies including this one.  So this movie holds a special place for me.  And I love the performances.

I'm glad Amy interviewed national treasure Lee Grant.  I'd heard about the HUAC stuff from her before in more detail but this was a nice side feature to this podcast.

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