Norman Jewison’s Academy Award-Winning, AFI Top 100-placing In the Heat of the Night (1967) made its Blu-ray debut earlier this week courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, demanding with its vastly improved transfer that we rush out and upgrade that 2008 DVD version of the film sitting on our shelves. But then maybe you don’t already In the Heat of the Night. And then again, maybe you’ve never even seen it. If either of these is the case, now really is the time to pick it up.
Now, should the five Academy Awards associated with the picture (including Best Picture, Best Actor (Rod Steiger), and Best Adapted Screenplay) and its placement at #75 on AFI’s Top 100 Films list (the updated 2007 list, that is) not hold as much weight with you as my opinion on the matter does, let me sing In the Heat of the Night’s praises. On the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward police procedural drama, following a fish-out-water cop on the trail of a killer. And yet, you discover quickly that it’s anything but straightforward in its approach to the material, for racial tensions in the Deep South complicate out-of-town detective Virgil Tibbs’ investigation into the murder of a local philanthropist. Played by Academy Award-winner Sidney Poitier, Virgil’s skin color alone stirs up resentment and fear amongst the bigoted local law enforcement and citizenry alike. And as it happens, infusing a procedural drama with an exploration of bigotry in the South during the Civil Rights era actually makes for an impressive, top-notch, thought-provoking thriller in that Virgil races not only to catch the killer before the trail runs cold, but also to close the case before the locals “put him in his place,” as they say.
It’s most certainly a must-see, if not a must-own, and the Fox-released Blu-ray trumps all previous releases. Although the picture is occasionally noticeably soft at times, it’s overall sharper and more detailed than even the 2008 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, with more vibrant colors and a richer film grain to boot. Where special features are concerned, the Blu-ray release sadly contains nothing new, but it does include all features previously collected on the 40th Anniversary Edition:
-Commentary by director Norman Jewison, actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler;
-“Movie-Making in the 1960s” featurette,
-“The Slap Heard Around the World” featurette,
-“Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound” featurette,
-and the original theatrical trailer.