#287 In the Heat of the Night

Watched: December 27 2020

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Larry Gates, James Patterson

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Officer Sam Woods (Oates) is doing his rounds in a small Mississippi town when he comes across a dead body. The dead man turns out to Mr Colbert – an investor come to build industry and save the town. There also happens to be a black man waiting for a train at the station, so obviously Woods arrests him for the murder.

“Well sir, he was behaving in a very suspect sort of a way. He was reading while being black.”

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Virgil Tibbs (Poitier), the man arrested, is brought to the Chief of Police Gillespie (Steiger) and questioned. It turns out he is far from a suspect – he is in fact a homicide investigator from Philadelphia. Better than that, he is the homicide investigator in Philadelphia. So his boss suggests he stays behind in Sparta to help solve the murder.

“This is a local murder for local people! There’s nothing for you here!”

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Tibbs is great at his job, something Gillespie recognises despite his racist views. In this small Southern town a black investigator meets with a lot of resistance though, and especially the local Angry Young Men™ mob up to kill him. After some potentially lethal encounters, Gillespie advices Tibbs to leave, but he is unable to walk away from a case. Can the unlikely duo solve it and survive the investigation?

“Actually Chief, we’re presidentially sanctioned Proud Angry Young Boys™. We think you’ll find our tiny dicks are proof of this. We suggest you step out of our way and let us deal with our insecurity by letting a rich white man use us for his own benefit.”

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Even on a freezing December evening in Norway, we could feel the oppressive heat of Sparta, Mississippi. In the Heat of the Night is exciting and unnerving, and edge-of-your-seat tense. Unfortunately, it says a lot about the world that it did not even occur to us for the first hour that Tibbs could survive the movie… It’s a sad statement indeed.

Despite being over 50 years old, it’s still a relevant movie. Its themes of racism, prejudice and social distancing seem surprisingly modern and contemporary!

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Sidney Poitier is mesmerising, the chemistry between him and Rod Steiger is great, the mystery is as intriguing as the exploration of racism and prejudice, and the soundtrack is excellent. This is what you get when you combine a fantastic cast, director and script. It’s a sort of buddy-cop movie, a social commentary drama, a character study, and a great murder mystery all wrapped up in one. We loved it!

Trust us, it’s worth watching for this scene alone. Fight the power!

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What we learned: Don’t let your prejudices cloud your judgment.

Next time: Le Samouraï (1967)

#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)