On this day where we celebrate Hollywood’s greatest, let us look back at a true great, the Best Picture-winning In the Heat of the Night. This groundbreaking 1967 drama based on John Ball’s novel stars Sidney Poitier as Philadelphia homicide cop Virgil Tibbs. While waiting for a train home from Sparta, Mississippi, he is accused of murder. But after learning of Tibbs’ bona fides–and reputation–racist police chief Bill Gillespie (Best Actor Oscar-winner Rod Steiger) grudgingly asked his ex-suspect’s help in flushing out the real perpetrator.
The film is a landmark moment in history as it presented a candid and honest look at the racial divide in America, exploring issues of prejudice and hatred in a way that at the time was revolutionary. It went on to become a cultural touchstone, winning a total of five Academy Awards and becoming such a phenomenon that Poitier’s beloved character returned in 1970’s They Call Me Mister Tibbs!. (A television series followed without the original cast in the 1980s).
The Criterion Collection has recently issued a special edition of the film that includes the following special features:
– New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
– New interviews with director Norman Jewison and actor Lee Grant
– Segment from a 2006 American Film Institute interview with actor Sidney Poitier
– New interview with Aram Goudsouzian, author of Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon
– Audio commentary from 2008 featuring Jewison, Grant, actor Rod Steiger, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler
– Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making in the ’60s, a 2008 program about the production of the film and its legacy, featuring Jewison,Wexler, producer Walter Mirisch, and filmmakers John Singleton and Reginald Hudlin
– Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound, a 2008 program about Jones’s innovative soundtrack, including the title song sung by Ray Charles, featuring interviews with Jones, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and musician Herbie Hancock
– Theatrical Trailer
– An essay by critic K. Austin Collins
In the Heat of the Night remains a powerful viewing experience whose themes continue to resonate through society. It is available via the Criterion Collection here.