Release Date(s)1967 (April 19, 2022)
Studio(s)The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
In the Heat of the Night felt like a jolt of electricity to those who saw when it was originally released in 1967. Its portrayal of a black homicide investigator from the city finding himself in the middle of a murder investigation in an overtly racist section of the South was well-handled by director Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof). The material itself borders on B grade, at least compared to what came before and definitely what would come later; but because Sidney Poitier drives the film merely with his presence, it becomes something else entirely: a cornerstone of commentary on race relations during a tumultuous time in US history.
In the town of Sparta, Mississippi, officer Wood (Warren Oates) finds the dead body of Phillip Colbert, who had recently moved to Sparta with his wife (Lee Grant) to build a new factory, which would have given the town a major financial boost. Passing through and waiting at a nearby train station is Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), who because of his race, is brought in immediately. They’re ready to throw the book at him until police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) discovers that Tibbs is actually a policeman. Phoning his own chief back home in Philadelphia, Tibbs is told to aid Gillespie in the investigation. At the further insistence of Mrs. Colbert, Gillespie is forced to work with Tibbs, but must set aside his prejudice if the case is to be solved.
The plot and its conclusion are merely a backdrop for the performances. It’s not a very intriguing or distinctive mystery, but one cannot take their eyes off of Sidney Poitier and how he handles the rampant racism constantly being hurled at him, particularly from Gillespie. But the formula of an outsider coming into a town and stirring up the pot is as tried and true as they come. One need look no further than the first season of Amazon’s recent Reacher series, which is almost identical to In the Heat of the Night structurally, to see that this type of narrative isn’t unique. What’s special about it is the fact that it’s a black man being tossed into a bad situation and having the wits and the integrity to not only rise above it, but bring others over to his cause. He may not change Gillepsie’s entire worldview, but he definitely gives him some food for thought.
In the Heat of the Night also carries an unorthodox but excellent score by Quincy Jones, who mixes styles to create a tableau of Southern-soaked jazz and blues. The soundtrack also features a wonderful title song, sung by Ray Charles, as well as an incidental country tune by Glen Campbell. But at its heart, In the Heat of the Night is about the mutual respect that one can gain from a place of pure ignorance. The unfortunate truth is that the racism on display in the film is still incredibly relevant, which is partially why it’s aged so well. A pair of conventional though entertaining in their own right sequels were produced in the film’s wake featuring Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs on the job as a tough city cop, but neither are as effective or as hard-hitting.
In the Heat of the Night was shot by cinematographer Haskell Wexler on 35 mm film with Mitchell BNCR cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber brings the film to Ultra HD utilizing the same 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative that was included on Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film. There’s no HDR grade, only SDR. The primary improvement is a sharper and tighter grain structure. It’s a wonderfully detailed image with outstanding saturation. Blacks are deep with excellent shadow detail. It’s also a stable and mostly clean, with only a stray scratch here or there. There are a couple of occasional dips in quality that occur during transitions, as well a minor density fluctuation during one scene, but these moments are fleeting. This is an otherwise spotless and gorgeous presentation of the film.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. (Note that the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of the film featured an English 1.0 LPCM track). The 5.1 option expands the original soundtrack without altering it substantially, allowing for ambient activity, score, and music in the surrounding speakers. There’s even some nice panning when cars cross the screen, as well as decent low end for the score. The mono track represents the film’s original sound design fine enough, but the 5.1 track is a marked improvement. Both tracks are clean and free of any major issues.
The 4K Ultra HD disc of In the Heat of the Night is included in a black amaray case with an insert featuring the original theatrical artwork alongside a Blu-ray disc of extras, including the sequel films They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! and The Organization. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the same artwork. Each disc contains the following extras:
DISC ONE – UHD
- Audio Commentary with Nathaniel Thompson, Steve Mitchell, and Robert Mirisch
- Audio Commentary with Norman Jewison, Haskell Wexler, Rod Steiger, and Lee Grant
The first audio commentary features film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Steve Mitchell, as well as producer Robert Mirisch. The three discuss the film, mostly questioning Mirisch about his knowledge of the film and the many facets of it. It’s not a highly energetic commentary, but it offers plenty of interesting information. The second audio commentary, which features director Norman Jewison, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant, is by far the better of two. It goes quiet a few times, but the participants (who’ve been recorded separately and stitched together later on) offer their own personal experiences with the film. Jewison and Wexler primarily run the commentary, but everybody contributes dutifully.
DISC TWO – BD
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (HD – 108:45)
- The Organization (HD – 108:10)
- Turning Up the Heat: Movie Making in the 60’s (SD – 21:10)
- The Slap Heard Around the World (SD – 7:25)
- Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (SD – 13:02)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:48)
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs! Trailer (HD – 2:05)
- The Organization Trailer (SD – 2:54)
Both They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and The Organization were released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in 2015, but for this release, they’ve decided to include both films plus the extras for all three films on a single Blu-ray disc. As for the presentations of these two films, they’re obviously sourced from older masters, but they hold up well. Detail is a bit soft and there’s crush in the shadows, but they’re otherwise healthy masters with decent saturation and contrast. Mild speckling and dirt are prevalent throughout, but they’re otherwise clean. Audio is included for both films in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. Each track offers good support for dialogue, sound effects, and score, though is lacking in the lower registers. They’re are also clean with little to no sibilance or distortion. Both films would have benefited from being on separate discs, but this a fine catch-all solution (and a cheaper one, as well).
THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS! (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B/B
THE ORGANIZATION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B-/B
Turning Up the Heat, The Slap Heard Around the World, and Breaking New Sound take a retrospective look at the film and its score with director Norman Jewison, producer Walter Mirisich, filmmaker John Singleton, university professors Dr. Imani Petty and Dr. Todd Boyd, AFI film historian Patricia King Hanson, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, composer Quincy Jones, filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, musician Herbie Hancock, film music historian Jon Burlingame, audio engineer Patrick Smith, and lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The rest of the extras consist of trailers for all three films. Not carried over from The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release are additional interviews with Norman Jewison, Sidney Poitier, Lee Grant, and Aram Goudsouzian.
Kino Lorber’s 4K Ultra HD release of In the Heat of the Night offers a stellar presentation of the film with a healthy extras package. And although it’s missing the interviews from the Criterion Blu-ray, this is still an essential disc to own for film fans. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons