In the Heat of the Night: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition – DVD Review

Fox & MGM Home Entertainment / 1967 / 110 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: January 15, 2008
List Price: $19.98. Buy it at

The Movie:

In The Heat of the Night infused racial tension into a Southern fried murder mystery. On a sweaty night in Sparta, Mississippi, a businessman’s body is found. The local deputy (Warren Oates) immediately nabs a well dressed black man at the train station. He’s not local and he looks too rich for his own good. How could he not be the prime suspect? If the deputy had done a simple ID search, he would have discovered that Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) works homicide for the Philadelphia police. Tibbs is disgusted by the racist attitude of the local sheriff (Rod Steiger). He’s frustrated when his boss volunteers him to assist the sheriff on the case. Nobody in the area appreciates an educated black man that doesn’t pander to the white citizens. Will he solve this crime before he becomes a victim?

The dead businessman was building a factory in the town. He was a Northerner. This makes Tibbs hesitant to stick around. This is a town that doesn’t like outsiders and they really don’t seem to happy about hosting a black outsider. But Tibbs gave his word to help the investigation. His inspection of the body turns up more than the local coroner’s examination. When the cops haul in a new prime suspect, he knows they grabbed another wrong man. The local cops are really not liking this guy who is showing them as a pack of Barney Fifes. Things get even more explosive when he returns a slap from rich white man. He’s turning this town around.

Poitier and Steiger work perfectly off each other. Poitier refuses to let himself be demeaned by the redneck in the community. He’s a proud man that refuses to be their “boy.” Steiger’s cop doesn’t want anyone to doubt his authority. He’s a blowhard who unleashes without much effort. Both actors are like rams slamming horns. Their clashes are very believable.

The most unforgettable moment in the film is when Delores Purdy (Quentin Dean) is interrogated. She describes a conversation when a man suggested on a hot, humid night, she should go down to the cemetery with him. He entices her with the promise of the cool marble of a tombstone against her hot body. There’s a carnal intensity in her delivery. You’ll need to lay on a cool tombstone to recover.

People argue about deserving Oscar winners. In the Heat beat Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate for the 1967 hardware. As good as those films are, In The Heat still holds up with solid performances and a script that doesn’t get trite. It’s definitely better than the nominated Dr. Dolittle. This isn’t Crash or The English Patient where you scratch your head and wonder what the Academy members were thinking. In the Heat of the Night is a film that remains raw in both the crime and racial attitudes. It’s a mystery wrapped with a message that doesn’t get too preachy.

The DVD:

After the earlier barebones release, the film finally gets proper respect. The DVD is in a black keepcase. It’s single sided and dual layered.

A/V Quality Control:

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer is extremely clear and the color shows off the sweaty nature of the cast.

The soundtrack is in 5.1 Dolby Surround and mono. There’s Spanish and French dubs. The subtitles are in English and Spanish. There’s a commentary track featuring Norman Jewison, Lee Grant, Rod Steiger and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. They’re talks are edited together instead of having them watch the film together. Norman talks about the difficulty of hiding the naked woman drinking the soda through the window. Wexler talks about how he lit the film as if it was black and white. Steiger discusses the role of his character’s gum chewing. Everyone has praise for Hal Ashby’s editing. They also expose the fact that this story of the deep South was filmed in Sparta, Illinois and not in the heart of Mississippi. Jewison talks about RFK’s relationship with the production.

Special Features:

Turning Up the Heat: Movie-Making in the 60s (21:09) gives the behind the scenes tales of the film. They explore the tensions that happened around the locations.

That Slap Heard Around the World (7:26) focuses on the scene when Poitier slaps the rich white guy. Jewison explains how he prepared the actors to get maximum reaction when the cameras rolled.

Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (13:02) discusses how the jazz arranger used his score to establish himself in the film world as a composer. Jones talks about working with Ray Charles on the soundtrack to create music that sounded Southern.

Theatrical Trailer (2:47) ratchets up the racial tension. There seems to be more jeopardy to Sidney Poiter surviving this case than solving it.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for In the Heat of the Night: 40th Anniversary Edition







The Inside Pulse
Before it was watered down for a network series, In the Heat of the Night was a raw murder mystery. Poitier and Steiger are heavyweight fighters as they exchange dramatic punches. Even after 40 years, it still grips your attention. This movie didn’t win the Oscar on hype or sympathy.