Vintage Shelf In the Heat of the Night 1967

first_img I’m gonna level with you guys: this column was originally going to be about Night of the Creeps, an eighties horror comedy by Fred Dekker, the guy behind The Monster Squad, which recently received a specialty release from Shout! Factory. It’s a good time for what it is; a campy, gory college romp, but not much else. That’s the problem I ran into when I sat down to write about it: I didn’t have much to say. It was the first time I’d encountered this problem when writing Vintage Shelf. I’m nothing if not aggressively opinionated and it’s rare for me to have so little to say about a movie after watching it.With a deadline approaching, I turned to my To-Watch pile of movies and tried to find something genre-centric, something in the realm of horror or science fiction or fantasy, something traditionally weird or iconoclastic in the Vintage Shelf tradition of Streets of Fire or Double Dragon. Nothing caught my interest. Maybe it was a long week catching up to me or maybe Night of the Creeps just camp-ed me out for the night. I just didn’t feel like it’d be productive to spend my time on anything that wouldn’t be more or less a sure thing. So ultimately, my hand fell on the recent Criterion Collection edition of the 1967 classic and five-time Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night. Curveball, right?Poster for the 1967 movie ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (Photo Credit: John D. Kisch / Separate Cinema Archive / Getty Images)See, with the rare exception here and there (Batman probably being the most significant example) I try to write this column with the intention of writing about films that are undersung, that don’t have a rich history of film criticism to their names. There’s probably an extent to which that stems from my insecurities as a writer but it’s also a passion thing. I love weird niche movies and tend to spotlight ones that have recently received fancy rereleases because it warms my heart to see the care that distributors like Shout and Arrow Video put into restoring films that most regard as trash.In the Heat of the Night is decidedly not one of those movies. Again, five Oscars. Plus, if there’s any indicator of quality in the modern home media landscape it’s getting a Criterion Collection release. And initially I was as intimidated as I feared I might be when it came time to write about it. Director Norman Jewison’s legendary film about a black Philadelphia homicide detective and a police chief in the deep South reluctantly investigating a murder together lived up to the hype in ways that left me unsure if I had anything to contribute to the conversation. The excellent accompanying essay by film critic K. Austin Collins in the Blu-ray liner notes didn’t help. What could I possibly have to say about this movie?See, In the Heat of the Night is first and foremost a movie about race relations. I’m a white writer with very little to contribute to that side of the conversation. And it’s very hard to have a conversation about the film without discussing its take on race, aside from acknowledging that it most certainly came off more progressive to most in 1967 than it does today. There’s such disparity between what there is to say about what the movie means in that context and what I’m capable of saying about it as a writer.So I’m not going to try. Instead I’m going to tell you a few things about In the Heat of the Night in the hopes that if you, like me, are a longtime cinephile who’s yet to have a chance to watch it, you’ll consider sitting down with it sometime soon.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because as universally acclaimed a performer as he may be, it’s impossible while watching the film to not feel that we don’t talk about the excellence of Sidney Poitier enough. He’s a screen presence of the highest caliber, equal parts a deftly talented actor displaying a mastery of craft and a born movie star, someone so inherently charismatic they just need to be on a screen so we can collectively appreciate them.Lee Grant and Sidney Poitier in ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ (Photo Credit: John Springer Collection / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images)You should watch In the Heat of the Night because it was released in this super interesting period in film where the Old Hollywood model of moviemaking had begun to die out but Jaws had yet to change the way movies were made forever. As a result the film has this aesthetic that is defined to a very specific and very short period of time that will never be replicated again. From the way the camera moves to the design of the sets, the incredibly specific framing of close-ups and wide shots and the saturated colors, In the Heat of the Night is a visual splendor and should be experienced by anybody who appreciates the visual art of filmmaking.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because it balances genres so incredibly deftly. The film is both a racial drama and a compelling murder mystery and both genres feel so fully realized over the course of the story. The former carries all the weight you could want but the latter is deceptively thrilling. Neither stifles the other; rather, they work in tandem with neither working as well without the balance provided by the other.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because as problematic as the archetypical Racist Character Who Learns To Be Less Racist is, Rod Steiger’s performance as Gillespie is wryly funny and enjoyable as hell.Posters for ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ (Photo Credit: John D. Kisch / Separate Cinema Archive / Getty Images)You should watch In the Heat of the Night because there’s this part in the original The Lion King where Pumbaa is staring down these hyenas and they call him a pig and he gets all offended and first he quotes Taxi Driver and gets all, “Are you talkin’ to me?” but then seamlessly transitions into “THEY CALL ME MISTER PIG” and I didn’t understand that reference until I saw In the Heat of the Night and it’s so incredibly weird to think about how a children’s movie about cartoon jungle animals quotes Taxi Driver and an award-winning racial mystery drama back-to-back.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because as flawed as the Oscars may be as both a concept and as a system (shout-out Green Book, I guess) there’s very much a reason this movie won five of them. It earned every single one.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because it does that thing that so few movies (Do the Right Thing is one of the only others that comes to mind) can where its depiction of sweltering heat is so vivid you’re almost certain to find a couple of beads of sweat on your forehead within ten minutes of the runtime. You look at some of the outfits in this movie, especially Virgil’s crisp suits, and it just makes you want to pant. The camera catches the blazing southern sun glistens off of the dust in the air, and if you’ve experienced that heat before you just feel it in your bones as Virgil and Gillespie move through town.You should watch In the Heat of the Night because it’s a very good movie. That should be reason enough.More on Shelf: ‘The Hunger’Vintage Shelf: ‘In the Mouth of Madness’Vintage Shelf: ‘Cobra’ Vintage Shelf: ‘Ronin’ Is an Action Masterpiece That Earns I…Vintage Shelf: Spike Lee Brings the Heat in ‘Do The Right Thing… Stay on targetlast_img read more