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MGM Studios DVD presents

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Chief Gillespie: "Well, you're pretty sure of yourself, ain't you, Virgil? Virgil, that's a pretty funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia. What they call you up there?"

Virgil Tibbs: "They call me Mister Tibbs."- (Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier)

Stars: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant
Other Stars: Larry Gates, James Patterson, William Schallert
Director: Norman Jewison

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, racial slurs)
Run Time: 01h:49m:44s
Release Date: 2001-01-09
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

1967 was a very good year for Sidney Poitier. Not only did he star in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, With Love, but he was also in the classic Best Picture Oscar®-winner, In the Heat of the Night. One part murder mystery and one part social drama, this film grabs you right off and pulls you into it without remorse.

When deputy Sam Wood (Warren Oates) finds the dead body of businessman Cobert on a side street one night in Sparta, Mississippi, Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) assigns him to check any possible leads for transients who might have committed the crime. Sam, upon checking the train station finds a black man, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) whom he reasons must be the killer. However, on being brought in, Tibbs reveals that he is a police officer himself, just passing through. At the insistence of his police chief, however, Tibbs (a crack homicide detective) is required to stay and help the racist swine that make up the Sparta police force. In addition to the difficulties with the police, Tibbs also has to deal with the local yahoos who would like nothing more than to bust his head open.

This movie wonderfully captures the racial tensions of the late 1960s, as well as the contrast between North and South. Lee Grant as Cobert's widow pretty well sums up the ineptitude of the local police, who take each suspect as obviously guilty in turn until Tibbs proves them wrong, when she says, "My God, what kind of people are you? What kind of town is this?" She and Tibbs are pretty much the only sympathetic characters to be found in the film. Steiger turns in a superb performance as the thickheaded Chief Gillespie who gradually comes to accept Tibbs' assistance, and finally to respect him. But this isn't a pat transformation; there is a long arduous road from point A to point B, which heightens the verisimilitude. On the other side of the coin, we see that Tibbs, while initially rather a Sherlock Holmes, eventually is proven to be wrong in some of his own conclusions, making him somewhat less of a Poitier Superman.

Poitier's rage is controlled throughout most of the film, but when he lets his fury come forth, it does so with startling suddenness, as he slaps a white suspect. Even though the suspect slapped him first, in 1967 such a sight would have been horrifying to much of white America. If nothing else, this movie served as a warning that black America was getting to the point where it would slap back, as it did in rioting and political subversion in years to come.

Beautifully shot, In the Heat of the Night features a goodly amount of handheld camera work which lends it a documentary feeling throughout much of its duration. The Best Picture Oscar® was well deserved. This is an important film which belongs in every DVD collection. Thankfully, MGM has released it as a special edition at a budget price.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is just plain gorgeous. There is excellent, vivid color throughout, and the blacks are rich and solid, with plenty of shadow detail. The opening close-up of a fly on a spotted calendar is breathtaking in its detail. The chase scene through the autumn woods is splendid throughout, with bright colors. There are two brief instances of frame damage, and some of the second unit material appears to have speckles which don't afflict the majority of the film. This is an astonishingly good transfer for a 1967 picture. It looks as if it could have been shot yesterday.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio suffers somewhat from hiss and noise. However, the dialogue throughout is clear, and the Quincy Jones score has a nice wide range that comes through quite nicely. Except for the hiss, this is a quite acceptable 2.0 mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Norman Jewison, actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant, cinematographer Haskell Wexler
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:05m:15s

Extras Review: The prime extra is a screen-specific commentary with director Norman Jewison and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Separate interviews with Rod Steiger and Lee Grant are also edited in (at one point Steiger comments on Jewison's remarks, indicating that he was at least informed about what the director had to say). Although a little on the dry side, tending toward the technical, there is plenty of filmmaking information here as well as historical background. Don't listen to it without watching the movie first, for there is a spoiler in the commentary when Jewison reveals the killer's identity early on.

MGM returns to the collectible booklet, which this time is jampacked full of production notes. The menu is anamorphic and has four different scenes from the film running at once, making for an interesting effect. A 1.33:1 trailer which is dark, smeary and damaged is also included.

Extras Grade: A+

Final Comments

A superb racial drama and murder mystery with crackling performances throughout, in a beautiful transfer with a commentary on top of it all. What more incentive do you need? Go get it, even you MGM naysayers. Here's a disc that is done very well indeed.

Mark Zimmer 2001-02-27