In The Heat Of The Night

Starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger Lee Grant and Warren Oates
Screenplay by Sterling Silliphant
Based on the novel by John Ball
Directed by Norman Jewison
Running time 109 minutes
USA 1967

Sidney Poitier has just been given a coveted BAFTA fellowship in the awards handed out at the weekend. His groundbreaking career as an actor and director over the past 60 years have been both an example and an inspiration to others in the profession while his strongly-held beliefs have stood firm in an industry not noted for courting political controversy or demonstrating moral determination.

Poitier, born into a poor family in the Bahamas, came to Miami with his parents as a young child. He was spotted early on as a theatre actor and soon achieved cinematic prominence in such films as The Blackboard Jungle, No Way Out and The Defiant Ones. He was the first performer of African descent to win a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies Of The Field in 1963.

In The Heat Of  The Night was to give him his most famous role - as Virgil Tibbs - a tough, smart Philadelphia detective thrown together with a racist Police Chief (played by Rod Steiger) to investigate the murder of a businessman in the small Southern town of Sparta Mississippi. The movie is a compelling masterclass of screen acting - with Poitier and Steiger sparring as the two policemen locked in the uneasiest of partnerships. The supporting cast including Warren Oates is excellent and the sweaty southern atmosphere is palpably humid and claustrophobic. 

Sterling Silliphant’s  script crackles while Quincy Jones’ tense, jazzy score is a perfect accompaniment to the action. The film’s director Norman Jewison, who will be 90 this year, made many other fine pictures including The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Rollerball and Moonstruck.

In The Heat Of The Night won five academy awards including  Best Picture, Beat Actor (for Steiger), Best Editing and Best Screenplay.