In the Heat of the Night

AFI Rank: #75 (10th Anniversary list)
Year Released: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Actors: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Timothy Scott

I've seen this movie many times, and I recently watched it on a quest to freshly watch all movies in the AFI Top 100. It's not surprising that In the Heat of the Night made it onto the AFI 10th Anniversary list at spot #75. What *is* surprising is that it was NOT on the first version of the list. How could such a classic be overloooked? Not only that, but on the first listing they had Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. On this list they took that one off and added In the Heat on. Did they feel both of them represented a "black white conflict" in the late 60s Civil Rights era? The two movies could not be more different.

Sidney Poitier absolutely shines as Mr. Tibbs, the top rated homocide detective in Philadelphia who ends up in Sparta, Mississippi one dark, lonely night. When a murder happens in town, the local police naturally figure he did it, as a strange black man in town. He's hauled in and nearly strung up before he's able to show them that he's a fellow police officer. And even so they are rude, demeaning, and obnoxious to him. The others are in town are even worse. When he asks about a motel that will take him, he's laughed at. A clerk at a run-down deli refuses to serve him. And a car-ful of "good ole Southern boys" literally chase him down and prepare to beat him to a pulp with chains and pipes.

Every time I see this I am viscerally reminded of just how powerful racism once was. Tibbs would have been shot dead just for slapping back a white man who hit him first. He laughs when being told that he should be horse-whipped. He takes it in stride.

I realize we still have a wealth of racism issues in the US - but I have to hope with all my heart that we have moved beyond this truly atrocious level. It is quite scary to think that this was barely 40 years ago. Within most of our lifetimes, this type of activity was going on in our own corner of the world. It makes me want to renew my effort to ensure that prejudice is removed from our world, and that every person is treated with respect, compassion, and honor.

Highly, highly recommended. This should have been on the first AFI list and is absolutely a must-watch on the current one.

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