In the Heat of the Night


In the Heat of the Night

Critics Consensus

Tense, funny, and thought-provoking all at once, and lifted by strong performances from Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger, director Norman Jewison's look at murder and racism in small-town America continues to resonate today.



Total Count: 50


Audience Score

User Ratings: 23,105
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In the Heat of the Night Photos

Movie Info

While traveling in the Deep South, Virgil Tibbs, a black Philadelphia homicide detective, becomes unwittingly embroiled in the murder investigation of a prominent businessman when he is first accused of the crime and then asked to solve it. Finding the killer proves to be difficult, however, especially when his efforts are constantly thwarted by the bigoted town sheriff. But neither man can solve this case alone. Putting aside their differences and prejudices, they join forces in a desperate race against time to discover the shocking truth.

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Rod Steiger
as Police Chief Bill Gillespie
Sidney Poitier
as Det. Virgil Tibbs
Warren Oates
as Sam Wood
Lee Grant
as Mrs. Colbert
Quentin Dean
as Delores Purdy
Larry Gates
as Endicott
Beah Richards
as Mama Caleba
Jack Teter
as Philip Colbert
Matt Clark
as Packy Harrison
Kermit Murdock
as H.E. Henderson
Peter Whitney
as George Courtney
William Watson
as Harold Courtney
Timothy Scott
as Shagbag Martin
Eldon Quick
as Charlie Hawthorne
Fred Stewart
as Dr. Stuart
Arthur Malet
as Ted Ulam
Peter Masterson
as Arnold Fryer
Alan Oppenheimer
as Ted Appleton
Philip Garris
as Mark Crowell
Phil Garris
as Engineer
Clegg Hoyt
as Deputy
Phil Adams
as Young Tough
Nikita Knatz
as Young Tough
David Stinehart
as Baggage Master
Buzz Barton
as Conductor
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Critic Reviews for In the Heat of the Night

All Critics (50) | Top Critics (11)

Audience Reviews for In the Heat of the Night

  • Aug 21, 2016
    A classic that oozes the Mississippi heat from every pore; brilliantly paced and fabulously acted piece that has stood the test of time.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer
  • Aug 23, 2014
    Wow, this film has one seriously sexy title, or at least it seems like it is after it's been sung by Ray Charles. It's like this film's leading Virgil Tibbs character's name, which pretty cornball up until Sidney Poitier somehow manages to pull off, "They call me Mr. Tibbs". Poitier may have made that line cool, but the American Film Institute had the audacity to deem it the 16th best quote in film history, although, - let's face it - that's just because it was set in the context of a black man demanding respect from a white man in the '60s. This is a crime drama that's really just an allegory for black civil rights, so who was going to direct this if it wasn't going to be Norman Jewison? Well, at least he made the film good, although it is totally unconvincing, because as much as I defend the American South's becoming much more progressive since, even nowadays, if I was a black detective, I wouldn't even joke about taking a case in Mississippi. Naturally, they didn't actually shoot this in Mississippi, because they would have lynched the Canadian cracker who directed this film just for having the surname [u]Jew[/u]ison. Well, anyways, the point is that this film was pretty groundbreaking, as opposed to its TV series spin-off (Man, TV detective dramas were a little too common when this film came out, back in the '60s, never mind the late '80s), and yet, it has shortcomings, even in the originality. Thematically, this film was very refreshing in its exploring matters regarding race relations which are still rarely touched upon in something as over-explored as the typical detective drama formula, but in most every other way, well, this film isn't especially new, hitting trope after trope as a police drama, but still not being as familiar as it probably should be. By that, I mean that this film stands to be a little more fleshed out, doing a decent job of distinguishing the roles, at least after a development segment which is short on immediate background, but doing only so much to really humanize the characters, whose thin aspects sometimes make the roles feel like types, devices in the thematic value of the film. Long since race relations have settled to an adequate point, it is common for American dramas driven by civil rights themes to be brutally unsubtle, and considering that I saw the cheesy, almost propagandist and barely relevant "The Hurricane", and know how liberal Norman Jewison still is, long after the Civil Rights Movement, I was fearing that this film would beat me over the head, so I'm very relieved to find that a lot of subtlety is applied to the thematic storytelling which is respectable and effective, and yet, there are still occasions in which Jewison gets too excited about all of the good he's doing, resulting in some missteps in subtlety which overemphasize themes, and sometimes even shake consistency. This film's central conflict is a murder case, and when conflicts regarding race relations really kick in, what ought to be the real focus of this narrative starts to lose its urgency through focal inconsistencies, although that urgency was always to be limited by inconsistencies in pacing. With all of my complaints, my biggest issue with this film is its deliberate pace, which may not be entirely deliberate, as the plot progression is sometimes retarded by excess, expendable material, although what hinders a sense of momentum more than anything is the slow-born steadiness to the structure of a lot of scenes, backed by a quiet intensity that is often effective, and just as often more cold than intense. The film gets a little boing more often than it should, and although it rarely loses your attention, and compels through and through, excessive steadiness, layering and thematic focus drags the final product down a formulaic path. With that said, the film is almost as rewarding a police drama as it is historically important, being pretty engrossing, particularly when it polishes things with style, even on a musical nature. Through the '60s, legend in the black music industry Quincy Jones was beginning to establish himself as the film score composer he is now a respected figure in, and this was his worthy breakout, for although Jones' score is blandly underused, its diverse fusion of big-band, jazz, R&B, and, to a certain extent, rock and roll makes for a unique, influential score which helps liven things up, with an aesthetic value that Haskell Wexler challenges through subdued, but handsomely near-crisp cinematography. The score and cinematography add to a subtle, but sharp style within Norman Jewison's direction which helps reinforce the engagement value of this film which is better secured by Jewison's storytelling, which also shakes the engagement value, through slow-burn pacing and a thoughtful atmosphere, occasionally broken up by subtlety issues which don't really have much value to them, as opposed to the deliberate pacing, which is often biting in its drawing anything from biting tension to engrossing dramatic resonance. Jewison has gotten carried away with his thoughtfulness, just as he has gotten carried away with his liberalism, but more often than not, the subtlety to the dramatic aspects of this film are near-penetrating in their tension, and intriguing in their thematic significance. Even with the thematic value taken out of account, this detective thriller story, while formulaic, is very intriguing, with an unpredictable mystery that comes down to a solid twist, and gets there accompanied by intricate, if excessive plotting, and worthy themes, anchored by mostly convincing characters who at least feel convincing thanks to the performances. Material is limited, but most everyone in this sometimes thin character drama utilizes dramatic range and distinguished charisma - the most distinguished of which being within Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger - to sell his or her role better than Stirling Silliphant does, as writer. If there are subtlety issues, or inconsistencies in focus, or a little too much excess to steady plotting, then it is all the fault of Silliphant, but these issues are rather moderate, at least compared to Silliphant's strengths, which include simple, but memorable dialogue, and a generally thoughtful attention to and the juggling of themes regarding police proceedings, and the, if you will "heat" and ignorance within southern race relations of the '60s. The thematic significance of this film is there, and handled well enough to be very respectable and effective, but as an almost noirish drama, it is almost enthralling, with enough intelligence and bite to compel and reward. When the heat dies down, occasions of formula, expository thinness, subtlety issues, and focal inconsistency steady momentum almost as much as blandly deliberate pacing and cold atmospherics, but groovy score work, decent cinematography, and an intriguing story which goes driven by charismatic performances, biting direction and sharp writing secure Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night" as a rewardingly engrossing portrait on southern race relations of the '60s, and on a tense police case. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 03, 2013
    It's not a remarkable film as a whodunnit, most of the investigation seems to be based on guess work. But as a social drama, it is a powerful and important work of art. Poitier and Steiger's characters are strikingly deep and their stellar performances makes them all the more better. The music is great and cinematography is top class, even by today's standards.
    Anoop K Super Reviewer
  • Nov 04, 2013
    In retrospect, it seems like such a silly historical piece but it is nonetheless believable that the circumstances could be real. No one apparently can do a racist as well as Steiger and Poitier is once again his unbelievable self. Brilliant.
    John B Super Reviewer

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