Best Picture #40: In the Heat of the Night

Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is In the Heat of the Night (1967).

In the Heat of the Night’s story of a Black man and a white man having to work together in the face of racism in the 1960s South is one that has often been told in other ways in the years since but has rarely been so bold as it must have been at the time of its release in 1967 and so entertaining but pointed as it remains today. It shows a town where convenience is prized over justice and prejudices based on race are exacerbated by the outsider status of being from the North and are openly voiced by police officers. In short, it’s not a film that’s lost its relevance today even if some of the plot points and design choices make it feel a bit old fashioned. The mystery at the center of the film as to who the murderer is was fairly compelling and generally moved at a quick pace, helped along by Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs and Steiger’s Chief Gillespie bouncing off of each other in great fashion, but it came to a close too quickly. Still, the mystery is really only a backdrop for a story about racism and finding resistance from everyone, so its occasional shortcomings can be forgiven and it’s hardly what gets remembered from the film when such moments as Tibbs slapping Endicott and the “They call me Mister Tibbs!” quote are so sensational. 

The Real Best Picture:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also quite good and featured Sidney Poitier and I like Bonnie and Clyde quite a bit as well but I think I’d go with In the Heat of the Night.

Best Picture Winners

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