In the Heat of the Night (film)
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In the Heat of the Night Film

In the Heat of the Night
In the Heat of the Night (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNorman Jewison
Produced byWalter Mirisch
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Based onIn the Heat of the Night
by John Ball
StarringSidney Poitier
Rod Steiger
Lee Grant
Warren Oates
Music byQuincy Jones
CinematographyHaskell Wexler, A.S.C.
Edited byHal Ashby
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 2, 1967 (1967-08-02)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office$24.3 million[3]

In the Heat of the Night is a 1967 American mystery drama film directed by Norman Jewison. It is based on John Ball's 1965 novel of the same name and tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and was produced by Walter Mirisch. The screenplay was by Stirling Silliphant.

The film won five Academy Awards, including the 1967 awards for Best Picture and Rod Steiger for Best Actor.

The quote "They call me Mister Tibbs!" was listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]


In 1966, a wealthy industrialist named Phillip Colbert has moved from Chicago to Sparta, Mississippi, to build a factory there. Late one night, police officer Sam Wood discovers Colbert's murdered body lying in the street.

Chief Gillespie leads the investigation. A doctor estimates that Colbert had been dead for a few hours. At the train station, Wood finds a black man, Virgil Tibbs, and arrests him. Gillespie accuses Tibbs of the murder, and is embarrassed to learn Tibbs is a police officer from Philadelphia. Gillespie phones Tibbs's chief, who informs Gillespie that Tibbs is a top homicide detective and recommends that he should assist the investigation. The idea does not appeal to either Gillespie or Tibbs, but for reasons of their own they reluctantly agree. Tibbs examines Colbert's body and concludes the murder happened earlier than the doctor had estimated, that the killer was right-handed, and that the victim had been killed elsewhere and then moved to where the body was found.

Gillespie arrests another suspect, who protests his innocence. The police are planning to beat him into confessing, but Tibbs reveals he is left-handed and has an alibi backed up by witnesses. Colbert's widow is frustrated by the ineptitude of the police and impressed by Tibbs. She threatens to halt construction of the factory unless Tibbs leads the investigation, and the town's leading citizens are forced to go along with her wish. The two policemen begin to respect each other as they are forced to work together.

Tibbs initially suspects plantation owner Endicott, a genteel racist and one of the most powerful individuals in town, who publicly opposed the new factory. When Tibbs interrogates Endicott, Endicott slaps him in the face and Tibbs slaps him back. Endicott sends a gang of thugs after Tibbs. Gillespie rescues Tibbs and tells him to leave town for his safety, but Tibbs is convinced he can solve the case.

Tibbs asks Wood to re-trace his car patrol route on the night of the murder, and Gillespie joins them. Tibbs reveals that Wood has changed the route of his patrol. Gillespie discovers that Wood made a sizable deposit into his bank account the day after the murder. He starts to suspect Wood and arrests him, despite Tibbs's protests. Purdy, a hostile local, brings his 16-year-old sister Delores to the police station and files charges against Wood for getting her pregnant. Tibbs insists on being present when Delores is questioned. Purdy is offended that a black man was present at his sister's questioning, and gathers a mob to attack Tibbs. Meanwhile, Tibbs tells Gillespie that the murder was committed at the site of the planned factory, which clears Wood of the murder charge, because he couldn't have driven both his and Colbert's cars back into town. Tibbs adds that he knows why Wood changed his route: at night Delores likes to display her naked body to whoever is outside, and Wood, who watches her while on duty, did not want Tibbs to see a white woman in the nude.

Tibbs visits a backstreet abortionist, who under pressure reveals that she is about to perform an abortion on Delores. Delores arrives, sees Tibbs, and runs away. Tibbs follows her and comes face to face with her armed boyfriend, Ralph, a cook from a local roadside diner. At that moment Purdy's mob arrives on the scene and holds Tibbs at gunpoint. Tibbs shouts at Purdy to check Delores' purse, that it contains money Ralph gave her for an abortion, which he got when he robbed and killed Colbert. Purdy grabs the purse and looks inside, and realizes Tibbs is right. Purdy confronts Ralph for getting his sister pregnant, and a startled Ralph shoots Purdy dead. Tibbs grabs Ralph's gun, and just then Gillespie arrives on the scene. Ralph is arrested and confesses to Colbert's murder: he had gone to ask Colbert for a job at the new factory, but ended up attacking him and taking his money. "That's all. I didn't mean to kill him," are the final words of Ralph's taped confession.

The final scene shows Tibbs boarding a train bound for Philadelphia, as Gillespie, having carried his suitcase, respectfully bids him farewell.



Although the film was set in Sparta, Mississippi, most of the movie was filmed in Sparta, Illinois, where many of the film's landmarks can still be seen.

Jewison, Poitier, and Steiger worked together and got along well during the filming, but Jewison had problems with the Southern authorities, and Poitier had reservations about coming south of the Mason-Dixon line for filming. However, despite their reservations, Jewison decided to film part of the film in Dyersburg and Union City, Tennessee anyway, while the rest was filmed in Sparta, Chester (Harvey Oberst chase scene), and Freeburg (Compton's diner), Illinois.

The famous scene of Tibbs slapping Endicott is not present in the novel. According to Poitier, the scene was almost not in the movie. In the textbook Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA 1850-2009 (Access to History), Poitier states: "I said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll make this movie for you if you give me your absolute guarantee when he slaps me I slap him right back and you guarantee that it will play in every version of this movie.' I try not to do things that are against nature."[6] Poitier's version of the story is contradicted by Mark Harris in his book, Pictures at a Revolution. Harris states that copies of the original draft of the screenplay that he obtained clearly contain the scene as filmed, which has been confirmed by both Jewison and Silliphant. Nevertheless, Poitier is correct that Tibbs slapping Endicott was not originally envisioned. After Endicott's slap, Silliphant's initial step-outline reads: "Tibbs has all he can do to restrain himself. The butler drops his head, starts to pray. 'For him, Uncle Tom', Tibbs says furiously, 'not for me!'"[7] Tibbs' counter slap first appears in Silliphant's revised step-outline.[8]

Tibbs urging the butler to pray for Endicott was part of Silliphant's adaptation of In the Heat of the Night as subversive Christian allegory, featuring Tibbs as messianic outsider who confronts the racist establishment of Sparta.[9]

The film is also important for being the first major Hollywood film in color that was lit with proper consideration for a black person. Haskell Wexler recognized that standard strong lighting used in filming tended to produce too much glare on dark complexions and rendered the features indistinct. Accordingly, Wexler adjusted the lighting to feature Poitier with better photographic results.[10]


In the Heat of the Night
Soundtrack album by
GenreFilm score
LabelUnited Artists
UAL 4160/UAS 5160
Quincy Jones chronology
Enter Laughing
In the Heat of the Night
In Cold Blood

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, and the soundtrack album was released on the United Artists label in 1967.[11][12] The title song performed by Ray Charles, composed by Quincy Jones, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman was released as a single by ABC Records and reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #21 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart.

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[13]

AllMusic's Steven McDonald said the soundtrack had "a tone of righteous fury woven throughout" and that "the intent behind In the Heat of the Night was to get a Southern, blues-inflected atmosphere to support the angry, anti-racist approach of the picture ... although the cues from In the Heat of the Night show their age".[13]The Vinyl Factory said "this soundtrack to a film about racism in the South has a cool, decidedly Southern-fried sound with funk-bottomed bluesy touches, like on the strutting 'Cotton Curtain', the down 'n' dirty 'Whipping Boy' or the fat 'n' sassy 'Chief's Drive to Mayor'".[14]

Track listing

All compositions by Quincy Jones

  1. "In the Heat of the Night' (Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) -- 2:30
  2. "Peep-Freak Patrol Car" -- 1:30
  3. "Cotton Curtain" -- 2:33
  4. "Where Whitey Ain't Around" -- 1:11
  5. "Whipping Boy" -- 1:25
  6. "No You Won't" -- 1:34
  7. "Nitty Gritty Time" -- 1:50
  8. "It Sure Is Groovy!" -- 2:30 (Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman)
  9. "Bowlegged Polly" -- 2:30 (Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman)
  10. "Shag Bag, Hounds & Harvey" -- 3:28
  11. "Chief's Drive to Mayor" --1:10
  12. "Give Me Until Morning" -- 1:09
  13. "On Your Feet, Boy!" -- 1:37
  14. "Blood & Roots" -- 1:07
  15. "Mama Caleba's Blues" -- 5:00
  16. "Foul Owl [on the Prowl]" -- 2:30 (Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman)



In contrast to films like The Chase and Hurry Sundown, which offered confused visions of the South, In the Heat of the Night offered a tough, edgy vision of a Southern town that seemed to hate outsiders more than itself, a theme reflecting the uncertain mood of the time, just as the civil rights movement attempted to take hold. Canadian director Jewison wanted to tell an anti-racist story of a white man and a black man working together in spite of difficulties. Jewison said that this film proved a conviction he had held for a long time: "It's you against the world. It's like going to war. Everybody is trying to tell you something different and they are always putting obstacles in your way."

A particularly famous line in the film comes immediately after Gillespie mocks the name "Virgil":

Gillespie: "That's a funny name for a nigger boy that comes from Philadelphia! What do they call you up there?"
(An annoyed) Tibbs: "They call me Mister Tibbs!"

This reply was later listed as number 16 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes, and was also the title of the movies' the sequel.

Another iconic scene that surprised and perhaps shocked audiences at the time occurs when Tibbs is slapped by Endicott. Tibbs responds by immediately slapping him back. In a San Francisco pre-screening, Jewison was concerned when the young audience was laughing at the film as if it were a comedy. The audience's stunned reaction to the slapping scene convinced Jewison that the film was effective as drama.[15] That scene helped make the film so popular for audiences, finally seeing the top black film actor physically strike back against bigotry, that the film earned the nickname, Super-spade Versus the Rednecks.[16] During the film's initial run, Steiger and Poitier occasionally went to the Capitol Theatre in New York to amuse themselves seeing how many black and white audience members there were, which could be immediately ascertained by listening to the former cheering Tibbs's retaliatory slap and the latter whispering "Oh!" in astonishment.[17]

Critical response

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "the most powerful film I have seen in a long time."[18]Life magazine said it was "an altogether excellent film that is quite possibly the best we have had from the U.S. this year".[18] Then-freshman critic Roger Ebert in 1967 gave In the Heat of the Night a positive review and placed it at number ten on his top ten list of 1967 films.[19][20] Art Murphy of Variety felt that the excellent Poitier and outstanding Steiger performances overcame noteworthy flaws, including an uneven script.[21]

Penelope Gilliatt in The New Yorker was the main negative voice and thought it had "a spurious air of concern about the afflictions of the real America at the moment" and that it is "essentially a primitive rah-rah story about an underdog's triumph over a bully".[18]

Steven H. Scheuer's Movies on TV (1972-73 edition) gives In the Heat of the Night its highest rating of 4 stars, recommending it as an "[E]xciting, superbly acted and directed film about prejudice, manners and morals in a small Mississippi town", with the concluding sentences stating, "[D]irector Norman Jewison does an outstanding job in creating the subsurface tension of life in a 'sleepy' Southern town, and the supporting performances are uniformly fine. A first-rate film in all respects." Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide (1989 edition) follows Scheuer's example with its own highest rating of 4 stars, concluding that "[M]arvelous social thriller hasn't dated one bit--tough, funny, and atmospheric, with unbeatable acting and splendid Quincy Jones score. Five Oscars include Best Picture ..."

Mick Martin's & Marsha Porter's DVD & Video Guide (2007 edition) also puts its rating high, at 4 stars (out of 5), finding it "[A] rousing murder mystery elevated by the excellent acting of Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier."

British references, likewise, show high regard for the film, with David Shipman in his 1984 The Good Film and Video Guide giving 3 (out of 4) stars, noting that "[A]s mystery or detective story this film is only fair, but it has enormous tension. Within its given framework, it is good on the colour question. There is tension in the eyes of the black (Sidney Poitier), who happens to be a homicide officer, and malevolence in those of the local police chief (Rod Steiger). These are two remarkable performances, well supported by Warren Oates, Lee Grant and Larry Gates."

Another British film critic, Leslie Halliwell, gave the film 2 stars out of 4 describing it in the fifth edition of his film guide (1985) as an "[O]verrated policier in which the personality clash is amusing (and was timely) but the murder puzzle is a complete throwaway." After Halliwell's death, the 21st edition of Halliwell's Film Video & DVD Guide 2007 edited by John Walker, raised the rating to the highest level of 4 stars and rewrote the evaluation to state that it is "[A] tense and exciting thriller that also explores racism through the explosive clash of two contrasting personalities."

The film currently holds a "Certified Fresh" 95% rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, out of 51 reviews collected with an average rating of 8.27/10. Its consensus states, "Tense, funny, and thought-provoking all at once, and lifted by strong performances from Sydney [sic] Poitier and Rod Steiger, director Norman Jewison's look at murder and racism in small-town America continues to resonate today."[22]

Box office

The film opened at the Capitol Theatre and at the 86th Street East theatre in New York City on Wednesday, August 2, 1967, grossing $108,107 in its first five days.[18] It opened in Miami Beach, Florida and in Toronto on Friday, August 4 and grossed $20,974 for the weekend which, together with the New York grosses, combined to give a weekend gross of $95,806.[23] It was released soon after race riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit.[18]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[24] Best Picture Walter Mirisch Won
Best Director Norman Jewison Nominated
Best Actor Rod Steiger Won
Best Screenplay - Based on Material from Another Medium Stirling Silliphant Won
Best Film Editing Hal Ashby Won
Best Sound Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department Won
Best Sound Effects James Richard Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film - Dramatic Hal Ashby Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film In the Heat of the Night Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Sidney Poitier Nominated
Rod Steiger Won
United Nations Award Norman Jewison Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Screenplay Stirling Silliphant Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Drama In the Heat of the Night Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Sidney Poitier Nominated
Rod Steiger Won
Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Quentin Dean Nominated
Lee Grant Nominated
Best Director - Motion Picture Norman Jewison Nominated
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture Stirling Silliphant Won
Grammy Awards Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show Quincy Jones Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Rod Steiger Won[a]
Laurel Awards Top Drama In the Heat of the Night Won
Top Male Dramatic Performance Sidney Poitier Nominated
Rod Steiger Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry In the Heat of the Night Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Rod Steiger Won
Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film In the Heat of the Night Won
Best Director Norman Jewison Won[b]
Best Actor Rod Steiger Won
Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame - Motion Picture In the Heat of the Night Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Film Norman Jewison Won
Best Performance in a Foreign Film Rod Steiger (also for The Loved One and No Way to Treat a Lady) Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Stirling Silliphant Nominated

American Film Institute recognition

Home media

In the Heat of the Night was first released on DVD in 2001. In 2010, the film was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.

In 2014, MGM released the film on Blu-ray. It was re-released on DVD and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in January 2019.


The Academy Film Archive preserved In the Heat of the Night in 1997.[25] In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]

Sequels and adaptations

The film was followed by two sequels, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971) starring Poitier but both films failed at the box office. It was also the basis of a 1988 television series adaptation of the same name.

See also



  1. ^ "IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (A)". British Board of Film Classification. July 17, 1967. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 187
  3. ^ "In the Heat of the Night, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020.
  5. ^ "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020.
  6. ^ Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA 1850-2009 (Access to History), Vivienne Sanders, Hodder Education, 2015
  7. ^ Heetebrij, Geert. "Subversive Christian Allegory in In the Heat of the Night (1967)", Christian Scholar's Review, 49:3 , 254.
  8. ^ Heetebrij, p.254.
  9. ^ Heetebrij, p.249.
  10. ^ Harris, Mark. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Films and the Birth of a New Hollywood. Penguin Press, 2008, p. 221.
  11. ^ Soundtrack Collector: album entry accessed January 17, 2018
  12. ^ Edwards, D & Callahan, M. Discography Preview for the United Artists label 40000 & 4000/5000 Series (1958-1972), accessed January 17, 2018
  13. ^ a b McDonald, Steven. In the Heat of the Night/They Call Me Mr. Tibbs - Review at AllMusic
  14. ^ 10 definitive Quincy Jones soundtracks from the '60s and '70s, The Vinyl Factory, accessed January 19, 2018
  15. ^ Harris, pp. 288-90.
  16. ^ Harris, p. 336.
  17. ^ Harris, pp. 335-6
  18. ^ a b c d e "'Heat of Night' Scores With Crix; Quick B.O. Pace". Variety. August 9, 1967. p. 3.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967 to Present". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on July 7, 2013. Retrieved 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Best 10 Movies of 1967". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  21. ^ Murphy, A.D. (June 21, 1967). "Film Reviews: In The Heat Of The Night". Variety. p. 6. Retrieved 2020.
  22. ^ "In the Heat of the Night, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012.
  23. ^ "In the Heat of Night (advertisement)". Variety. August 9, 1967. pp. 14-15.
  24. ^ "The 40th Academy Awards (1968) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011.
  25. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

External links

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