Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In the Heat of the Night

The Mirisch Corporation
Director: Norman Jewison
Length: 100 min.
Format: DVD
Date Viewed: 14 February

It's hard to say exactly why In the Heat of the Night works as a whole. Certainly with this film, the sum is greater than it's parts.

The acting is pretty good overall, with Poitier dominating the screen through his rich performance as Virgil Tibbs. Steiger is good as redneck Sheriff Gillespie, but is sometimes a little prone to using stereotypes. The supporting cast is generally pretty good, but, outside of the reliable Warren Oates, hardly noteworthy.

The script is decent, but important themes of class division are brought up and then quickly forgotten, and the entire murder-mystery plot is so underwritten as to be unnecessary to the film; by the end, it's still unclear how exactly the mystery was solved. The editing also feels a little choppy. Throughout we get the feeling that certain parts have been removed to tighten up the picture, but it feels over-tightened as a result.

The only really solid attributes of the film are the cinematography by Haskell Wexler and the perfect production design, making a farm town in Illinois look like a dilapidated Southern town.

When all the parts are put together, though, they work rather well. It's easy to become immersed in the film, and like it once it's over. Perhaps it works so well because of its lack of pretentiousness. The film never claims to be destroying racism in a small town or even presenting us with something new (though it may have been an eye-opener for some Northerners, I imagine the racial elements were routine evening news fare by 1967). We understand that the town will not change after Tibbs leaves. Endicott will not get rid of his slave-like servants, the police will still be ineffectual, and racism will still prevail. This is the true realism of the film.


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