In the Heat of the Night (1967)
February 5, 2015 8:58 PM - Subscribe

African American police detective Virgil Tibbs is passing through the racist, southern town of Sparta, MIssissippi when he is asked to investigate the murder of a prominent white businessman.

Slate, Revisiting In the Heat of the Night: To Jewison's credit, there are no scenes in which the story stops dead to make a point about racism. Instead, the themes assert themselves in every crosswise glance and smirk, and in the wary strength with which Tibbs holds himself rigid in the presence of white strangers. That said, some of Jewison's motifs resonated in 1967 in a way that is hard to imagine today. Watch how his camera follows Poitier's hands throughout the movie, lingering every time they touch white skin. As Tibbs works over the victim's corpse, palpating his palms and feet with clinical detachment, we can feel the sense of affront from the white onlookers around the makeshift morgue slab—and we can feel Tibbs feeling it. When Tibbs examines the fingers and forearms of a handcuffed murder suspect (a moment that, for 1967 audiences, might have evoked memories of Poitier chained to Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones [previously]), we can intuit the white man's bred-in-the-bone humiliation giving way to self-interest as he realizes that Tibbs might help him.

Directors Guild of America, The Slap Heard Round the World: Jewison had promised a justifiably concerned Poitier that they wouldn’t actually shoot in the South. But to capture the slap scene, and the cotton plantation that surrounded it, Jewison persuaded Poitier to go to Dyersburg, Tenn., for three days. To be on the safe side, the star kept a gun under his pillow at the Holiday Inn. “Feelings were that high,” recalls Jewison. “This was not a period film. It was taking place in the present time.”

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"The slap" scene

"They call me MISTER TIBBS!" scene
posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously Poitier is superb in this film, but I just want to take a moment to mention that I always forget about Rod Steiger, despite the fact that he's just so shickingly good in so much of what he appears in. He won a well-earned Oscar for his role in this film, and, I think, was largely responsible for it's success, in one specific way: Because he so perfectly plays a good old southern police officer, his growing respect for Tibbs signals to white audiences that they should likewise start to respect this character. He acts as the surrogate for a white audience that might otherwise have been ambivalent about the racial content of the film, and he does so with tremendous skill.
posted by maxsparber at 8:18 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Foul Owl on the Prowl
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:39 AM on February 6, 2015

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