In the Heat of the Night ★★★★

Here's another Sidney Poitier film on race that is still quite relevant today. This is clear right in the beginning, when a police officer immediately assumes that a black man (Poitier's Virgil Tibbs) is the man behind a murder simply because of the color of his skin. As for the film itself, it has an interesting mystery plot that sometimes becomes muddled and hazy. Rod Steiger (who won an Oscar for his role as the town sheriff) gives a fine performance, although I'm more fond of Poitier's turn as a brilliant homicide detective. Despite the relevancy, the film is a bit dated, as the primary role of Mr. Tibbs is to solve a murder at the benefit of a bunch of racist white dudes. However, the film kind of makes up for this by making Tibbs undeniably the brightest person in the room in every single scene. Nobody else in the film is on his level.

This film won Best Picture in a year in which it was up against the likes of "The Graduate," "Bonnie and Clyde," and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." "Dr. Doolittle" was also nominated that year, but nobody remembers it. 1967 was definitely one of the best, and most scandalous years for Hollywood film--so much so that an acclaimed book was written on it ("Pictures at a Revolution.") I can't help but imagine what it would've been like if "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" had been made a year later and joined these four other groundbreaking films. Interestingly enough, despite winning the coveted award, I think "In the Heat of the Night" is perhaps the least remembered of the four major films from 1967. Most film enthusiasts today would probably say that "The Graduate" or "Bonnie and Clyde" would be their pick. Still, this crime film that faces racism in the South is probably the most important and relevant in this day and age.

One last point about the Oscars that year. Despite giving two of his best performances, Poitier did not receive an acting nomination for either of his Best Picture-nominated films. It may be an interesting look at Oscars politics, as Poitier had already been recognized by the Academy for "Lillies of the Field" four years earlier, and Rod Steiger's win was considered long overdue. It's interesting to speculate about at the very least.